A few weeks ago, I preached on Jesus’ parable about the man who owns a vineyard and hires workers at different points in the day. The surprise in the story happens when both the people who were hired at sunrise and the ones hired just before suppertime are paid a full day’s wages. Those who had been working all day quickly complained: “These men who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day!”
The parable reminds us that God is not fair as we typically understand fairness. Rather than being fair, God is lavish in grace, whether you’ve walked with Him for decades, were introduced to Him more recently, or were born a few days ago. If God were only fair, you and I would be in a lot of trouble, because we deserve death and hell. But thank God that His fairness is exceeded by His grace through Jesus!
And that, in a nutshell, is what I talked about in my message.
Now I wish I had noticed and pointed out one other thing.
The landowner says to the complaining workers, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you.” I focused in my message how, in his generosity, the landowner (representing God) is “not being unfair” in his graciousness. But what if I skipped right over something even more important, more significant than the “fairness” of it all? What if the most significant thing the landowner says is “friend?” What if that’s the real surprise of the story, an even bigger surprise than all the workers being paid the same amount?
Jesus is not only teaching about the generous economics of God’s Kingdom, but is calling us to friendship with the King Himself. Friendship is not first of all about what is and isn’t fair; it’s about love and care. We don’t keep accounts with our friends, gauging how fair we are and they are in giving and receiving love. Friends simply love each other.
That’s how God desires to relate to me, and it’s how He invites me to relate to Him. He doesn’t think of me as an employee or a slave. In Christ, He has befriended me and walks alongside me in the journey of life.
I’ll take that over being fair any day!
Artwork: “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” by Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530). Found at Biblical Art on the WWW. I first really noticed the word “friend” via a meditation in Forward Day by Day.