Freely Given

Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard, straight outta Matthew.  Jesus tells a story of a farmer who hired laborers in his vineyard.  Some he hired first thing in the morning, some he hired  about the third hourthen Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hourhe hired more laborers.   Finally, about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 

Everything was a-ok until quitting time, when it came time to pay all these laborers their wages.  The owner starts with those who had just arrived in the last hour, and each of them received a denarius.   Then those who had been there six hours, those who’d been there 9 hours, also received the same denarius.  Finally, those who had started first thing in the morning come, and they believe (as do we) they should receive more.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  To which Jesus’ farmer replies But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Jesus’ farmer just broke every economic rule, every rule of motivation,  every rule of fair compensation.  Yes, the union boss would have been running an investigation of these labor practices!

Think about it.  This last group of laborers had been standing lazily around all day – Why do you stand here idle all day?  It’s harvest season, if these guys had wanted to work, they could have found work.  The text doesn’t give them credit for doing any exceptional job in the hour they were there.  Yet the boss gives them the same pay as he gives those who’ve been sweating under the hot sun.

It makes no sense.  Seriously, it makes no sense.  Why would any employer give the same pay no matter the quantity, or the quality, of work done?  It makes no sense because Jesus is not teaching us about economics, but grace.  The grace of God.  Grace can not be calculated like a day’s wages.  Again, grace is not about finishing last or first; it’s about not counting.

This story Jesus tells is not about fairness.  In fact, the story is completely and patently unfair, and that is the whole point.  Grace is not fair.   By definition, it is unfair and undeserved.  It is, after all, grace.  You can’t earn or deserve grace.  I’ve heard it said of forgiveness that if you have earned it or deserve it, then it’s not forgiveness at all.  Forgiveness is freely given or it’s not forgiveness, it’s simply right justice.  You’ve paid back your debt, you’ve done your time, you did not receive grace or forgiveness, just that which you paid for.

I would say the same thing about grace.  If you’ve earned it or deserve it, if you’ve worked so hard for it that in receiving it you are simply getting what is owed to you, where is the grace in that?  Grace is either freely given or not given at all.

And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’   It is not fair.  We earned our pay.   Which of you reading this does not fall on the side of these 12 hour workers?  This is the way our world works, and believe me, sometimes you can be a 12 hour worker and it’s still not good enough.   No matter how hard you work to earn favor in this world, by the rules of this world, there will be someone there to tell you you’re still not good enough.

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”   Not so in the Kingdom of God.   The Kingdom of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord, runs on grace.  Two thousand years after Jesus, we still haven’t wrapped our heads around this yet.  We’ve got all kinds of rules, regulations, and lines in the sand.   But in Bible, even through the Old Testament but most glaringly in the “…Word became flesh and dwelt among us….” John 1:14 ESV, all we see is the grace of God.  Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God, never once turned away a sinner who came to him.  His only rule is grace and forgiveness.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15 ESV.  Ouch.  Didn’t see that on the Romans Road.

I may try to earn it.  You may try to earn it.  But the more we try to earn the grace and favor of God, the farther we move away from Him.  It is our world that runs on merit.  It is the spirit of this world that pits us against one another, makes us climb over one another on that ladder of success.  It is the spirit of this world that says if we would only do more, we might get more.  It is the spirit of this world that says that getting more is the goal.

In the kingdom of God, we can not do more to get more.  Twelve hour workers get no more than those who showed up just in time for dinner.  There is no more to get.  He’s already given it all.  All we can do is accept free gift of the grace of God, freely given.

“”For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.””

Matthew 20:1-16 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.20.1-16.esv

John Lewis

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