Dave spoke from Matt 20:1-16 tonight, a parable about a farmer who owned a vineyard and employed labourers to pick the grapes in the harvest. This is a parable which offends us deeply, for the workers who were employed late in the day ended up earning the same as those who had worked all day and we can easily identify with those first workers who were offended and angry with the farmer. To us, this parable seems unfair, reinforcing bad business practices and creating resentment among the workforce – and since Jesus specifically said the kingdom of heaven is like this, we wonder if this means there are no rewards for hard work in God’s kingdom and if we can trust God or if He is as fickle as the farmer.
The parable is really about provision (for a day’s work was necessary if the workers were going to eat) and about God’s amazing, outrageous grace. When we get what we deserve, that is justice – but is justice what we always need? None of us could ever deserve or earn God’s favour or love. When we don’t get what we deserve, that is mercy – and all of us need God’s mercy. When we get what we don’t deserve, however, that is grace, and this parable reminds us starkly of the nature of grace.
Most of us live with a tit-for-tat mentality until we experience God’s lavish grace for ourselves. We bring this mentality to our dealings with God, bargaining with him as the workers did with the farmer (who actually paid the earlier workers exactly what had been agreed, so they did not have any legitimate complaints about his justice.) This leads us to compare ourselves with others, resulting either in pride (feeling we are so much better than someone else) or in despair. We find it almost unbelievable that salvation is free and everyone – regardless of our efforts, temperaments, circumstances or personality – can receive salvation for free. We may pay lip service to this truth, but the resentment which colours our attitudes towards others often reveals the true depths of our hearts.
When we grasp the enormity of God’s grace, we won’t want to quibble with Him about how He treats other people. Instead, we will be overwhelmed by gratitude, immensely grateful for all He has given us. We have received the gift of inexhaustible love; we have been blessed in ways we can never fully comprehend. People overwhelmed by grace don’t complain; they simply respond in thankfulness and praise.