When God’s Not Fair

Matthew 20:1-16

All the workers in the vineyard were standing in the unemployment line the day the owner hired them. Any of you who’ve been unemployed know what that is like—the uncertainty, the anxiety, the seemingly loss of identity, the hardships it can cause a family.

The owner hires them. promises them a just wage, a righteous wage. And—as it seems to happen—there’s not enough workers to go around. 9am; noon; 3pm—more workers needed. Even those who had been drinking coffee all day. 5pm? Get to work.

Then comes quitting time. And the one-hour worker? He gets the crisp (or is it shiny?) denarius. Not 1/12th. That would’ve been fair. And if I’m the guy who busted it the whole day, according to what’s right, what’s fair, the way it ought to be according to me, I start thinking what I’m going to get. And can’t you hear the whispers in the paycheck line?  It might not be a burger and a beer after work; it’s one of them fancy places, and the wife and kids get to come along!

Then the 3pm guy gets his. A denarius. The noon and 9am guys? A denarius. And the hand-writing is on the wall, and I too get my denarius, which goes against what I think is fair. But isn’t this what I agreed to? Furthest thing from my mind!

So they grumble. “When they received it [their denarius, their day’s wage], they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”

And the response? “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” 

“Are you envious because I am generous?” Literally: “Is your eye evil because I am good?” That is: Are you really going to toss me a dirty look because I’ve been generous?

And do you have a problem with God’s goodness and his generosity to others? Do you want God to be fair? Do you love to shoot an evil eye at God over his generosity?

I’ll tell you what we need: A God who’s not fair.

I’ll tell you what we need: mercy.

And the joy of Matthew 20. After Peter says, “We left it all to follow you” as in “When do we get ours?” God’s way doesn’t work that way. God deals in mercy. And so the joy? God’s way is the first was last that last will be first.

And the joy? God’s way is there is one who bore the heat of the day, who did it all, took it all, and it wasn’t fair on that cross. And so you get an unfair wage. Jesus your Christ is handed over to what is “unfair.” Jesus is handed over to a cross where He bears your sin and my sin and the sin of the whole world. Talk about an unfair payment. Jesus gets what He hasn’t earned. He gets what you have earned. Death and damnation.

And the joy? God justifies the eleventh hour guy. You. The ungodly.  “Friend…Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” And it sounds like this: “I forgive you. I wash you. You are mine. Wholly. Completely.” And the last will be first.

John Bortulin

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