There is a labor story of sorts in the Gospels which I find quite intriguing. I wish to share it with you today. Jesus told the story in Matthew 20 This is the story:
A number of laborers were hired to work in a vineyard. These workers were hired at different times of the day. The first group commenced their work "early in the morning"..... perhaps 6 or 7 AM. They agreed to the terms of payment and went to work. At 9 AM a second group was hired. Around noon and again at 3 PM new groups of laborers were deployed to work in the vineyard. Finally at around 5 PM the last group of workers was hired and sent to work. This group only worked for an hour when the foreman called all the workers together and began to pay them their wages. What a surprise awaited the early morning group!! To their chagrin they noticed that the 5 PM workers were paid exactly the same wage for the one hour they had worked as the early morning group was paid for the 12 hours or so that they worked. This seemed like a gross unfairness... the very kind of injustice that the Labor Day holiday sought to address in more modern times! After all, the first group worked through the heat of the day and for many more hours than the last group. It just did not seem fair and the first group let their unhappiness be known. After all, it is hard to accept that someone could get for almost nothing, what they worked so hard for, the entire day long.
The owner of the vineyard presented his arguments:
1. A deal is a deal. Group #1 agreed to work for a certain wage. So why are they complaining?
2. A land owner can make whatever deals he wishes. It is his prereogative.
Here are some lessons I see in this parable.
The grace of God is generous and even reckless. God's generosity knows no bounds and does not respect people.
Those who believe that performance is the basis for God's system will not appreciate the grace of God. This is a very subtle but very basic principle.
Surely the 5 PM workers did not utter a complaint. I suppose they hurried to their local bank to cash their checks. I am sure they did not enter into long discussions with the early morning group. They did not ask what others were paid. When we receive mercy we do not care who else gets it, too. If we are bothered by the 5 PM salaries, then we are likely a person who is depending on something other than God's mercy to make us acceptable to God.
I meet people sometimes who actually dislike God's grace although they would rarely say so. They do not like when sinners are extended grace. They may say something like, "I have served God all my life, I have been part of a church for years and held every office in it. I deserve more than someone who comes off the street, has perhaps lived a wicked life and now is regarded by God with the same degree of favor as I am!" But this is how "unfair" the grace of God is! We do not like this much. It seems unfair. It is,..... if we base our acceptance by God on performance. But if we do not, then we clap our hands with delight and fall on our knees with gratitude.
What group of workers are you in?