The Bible is full of stories that make us wince. Quite often, we read its truths and forget that they were probably just as difficult to swallow sometimes for ancient man as they are for us today. Especially difficult are the red letters interspersed throughout the four Gospels. These are the words of Jesus of course, and they are full of love and compassion — but sometimes more difficult concepts as well.
Take for example the story of the workers in the vineyard. Matthew chapter 20 lays out for us a parable about the way the Kingdom of Heaven operates. Jesus describes a situation where the landowner goes out and hires some workers to tend to his field. When evening came and it was time to get paid, the laborers noticed that the landowner was being a bit too generous. It seems that those who were hired later (thus working less hours) were getting paid the same amount as those who had toiled all day.
Matthew 20:11 says, “When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These 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.’”
What factors in when we think about the human sense of fairness? We see what one person might receive, and then we compare that with what we have. If everything lines up with our own opinion, biases, and prejudice — then we have an accord. But if something is off a bit, there is trouble!
Scripture says that God gives freely as He sees fit. Romans 9:15 tells us, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
This doesn’t sit well with some people, and from time to time, someone complains directly to God. It usually doesn’t end well for that person. (Remember what happened when Job questioned God?) Job 38:4 recounts that God says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
God reminds us in this passage that He is sovereign. God alone makes the final call regarding who gets paid what. After all, it’s His vineyard.
But why do we still get so jealous sometimes about spiritual things like this? I have always found the story about the thief on the cross to be of great comfort. Luke 23 says that Jesus was crucified next to two other people. One criminal yells insults at him, and lashes out against God. The other thief, however, sees the error of his ways and asks Jesus to forgive him. Jesus accommodates, and tells him that ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’
People often have one of two reactions to this story. If we are lucky, we view this historical account as comforting. We understand that God forgives anyone if they repent and accept him, even the hardened criminal. But the second group becomes jealous. They don’t understand how God could forgive someone who offered up a deathbed conversion, while they have worked tirelessly trying to be a good Christian their whole life. It doesn’t seem fair. The landowner just paid the other worker the same amount of money for tending his vineyard.
Sometimes we need reminding that the Lord’s grace is sufficient, don’t we? That it is better not to spend time critiquing what God did for someone else, but instead focus on that fact that He has done anything at all for anyone. God certainly doesn’t owe people anything. There is nothing we can build, create, or do that God needs. He doesn’t need our money, but He does ask that we give a portion back to the church. He doesn’t need our worship or adoration, but He does long for it because He loves us and wants us. Trust me, we have no room to judge what a Holy God should or shouldn’t do.
What is left to do then? I think, we can simply be content with the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. We can focus our energy on the fact that God sent His son to die in our place, and let that be enough. Let that fact comfort us and be sufficient. Stop worrying so much about the other workers in the vineyard, and just be grateful to get a paycheck at the end of the day.
After all, if we are taking the theology of original sin seriously, then you and I are much more like the thief on the cross than we would like to admit. I will take what God gives me, and I will be happy to be part of His vineyard in any way that I can.