The Unfair God
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
To understand rightly the Gospel appointed for today, we need to remember two things. First, Jesus was answering His critics, the Pharisees, who were convinced that their piety entitled them to a special claim on God’s reward. Their complaint was that Jesus was opening the gates of God’s kingdom to all of the undesirable characters in Israel, perhaps even to Gentiles, which would have been unthinkable. The second thing is this: the real heart of the account comes with the settlement after sunset, and the astonishing generosity the owner showed to the late-comers to his vineyard, who, in the eyes of the Pharisees represented the tax collectors and “sinners.” And so, the point is that it is really not the story of the laborers in the vineyard. The owner is the chief character. And that gracious owner, of course, is a picture of God in his remarkable goodness.
Jesus is not talking about economics, but about theology. He is saying that reward in the kingdom of God is not measured by what men deserve, but by the pure grace and goodness of God. In the end, God treats sinners in the same way this vineyard owner treated these unemployed men. Of course, the One who told this parable knew the Father’s nature and will better than any other man born of woman, and what He tells us about God the Father is as true in the year 2012 as it was when first told. God is like that owner. When it comes to pouring out His grace and salvation, He makes no distinctions among His children. God has no red-headed step-children; all are His by creation and by recreation in Jesus Christ. In an earthly family, a good father will give to his children according to their needs and not according to their abilities or what they have deserved. So it is, and even more so, in that great Kingdom over which our heavenly Father rules. God is infinitely good to His children. As David had so wonderfully put it in the Psalms: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy…He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
And yet, some are sure to object that this story is long out of date; the Pharisees Jesus answered are long since dead and buried. But are they really? Does not every age have their counterparts? Does not every generation produce its own crop of Christians who would make a “closed shop” of God’s kingdom, and try to keep out all who do not measure up to their standards, not God’s standards, but theirs? There are always people in the church who assume that their piety gives them a special claim on God’s favor, and they look with something less than the eyes of love on those who seem to them less worthy. Truly they have their reward, for they have earned the respect of their peers. There is no higher honor in this world; but their reward is a worldly one. They have received what they deserve; and to their everlasting regret, that is all they will receive.
How blessed you are that God does not deal with you according to your sins. Where would you and I be if God exacted strict justice for every idle word or thought, for every time you have lashed out in anger at another as a means of dealing with some other problem, for every time you have lied or cheated or in some way deceived your spouse or children or friends? The mercy of God is a wondrous thing. He deals with you in ways you would never deal with each other. For the sake of His dear Son, who bore all punishment for sin, He deals with you patiently, lovingly, forgivingly.
God’s thoughts and ways are not your thoughts and ways. The love of God is broader than the measure of a man’s mind. He sees and knows things about you and what the future holds for you that you cannot know. And a large part of faith is trusting the Lord to always know and do what is right.
God is impartial when rewarding his children with eternal life, for this is not a reward they have earned, but a reward of grace. Does this shock or startle you, that God would reward equally even the poorest and least worthy of Christians with the greatest of His saints? Granted, it does not make sense; and to human ears, this does not sound at all fair. But that is the will of God, and that is what makes it wonderful! After all, it made no sense that God would deliver up His own Son for your sins. It certainly was not “fair” to the perfect and holy Son of the heavenly Father to be punished for what He had not done. But as the parable said, does not the Father have the right to do as He pleases with what is His? And what He has been pleased to do is to offer His Son as the sacrifice for your sin, and then to call you all into His kingdom, that He might pour out on you the riches of His grace in ways that sinners will never fully comprehend! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.