Parents, as equitable as you may try to be, have your kids ever come up to you and said, “You know mom, that was really fair and even. Thanks so much.” Or: “Dad, I like how you gave each of us just the right amount.”
I know I’ve never heard it. But, even though I have wonderful, loving, sharing children, I have heard how it’s “not fair” that one sister got more ice cream than the other and it’s “not fair” that one brother gets to stay up later. “It’s not fair that her friend can spend the night but not mine.” “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.”
That’s kids for you, huh?
Or can you guess where I’m going with this? Friends, we don’t grow out of it, do we? “It’s not fair that I work harder and she gets paid more.” “It’s not fair that he gets all the breaks.” “It’s not fair that all the death or disease or whatever it is always strikes my family.” “It’s not fair that I have to work for everything and so many just sit back and milk the system.”
As tempting as it is to think that way — I’m telling you today to praise God that it’s not fair. In our text for today, Matthew 20, Jesus makes the point that we don’t get what we deserve from God.
Read the story in your Bibles about this landowner who hires a bunch of people to work in his vineyard. Even though the amount of time they put in ranges from only one hour to 12 — he pays them all the same. And when that happened, those who worked the longest suddenly called it “not fair” when they were paid exactly what they agreed to.
And we can relate, can’t we? If you had to work 12 times harder than someone else for the same compensation, you know it wouldn’t feel fair. But of course, Jesus told this story to make a spiritual point.
Think about this: What is fair in our relationship with God? At the end of the day, what does God owe you? You’ve given of your time and money and ability, haven’t you? But then again, you haven’t given him anything besides what is already his.
You try to do what he tells you, right? He should be happy about that. But then again, he gave you a pretty simple command: “Don’t sin,” and you haven’t been successful in keeping that one — even for a day.
What’s fair? Well, just like those workers in the vineyard, we had agreed upon the wage ahead of time, hadn’t we? God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the fruit, they’d die. It was clear, the wages of sin are death.
For all of your complaining, whether verbally or just in your inmost vents, for every time I feel like I deserve more, whenever I want what goes around to come around for everyone else but me — I have those wages coming. I, a sinner, should be separated from God forever — if he’s fair.
But, praise God that God is not fair, not according to our scales of justice.
Look at what the said to the complainers in the story? “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Do you see the truth there? God is generous. He gives what isn’t deserved. And that unfairness is the only solution to the pressures of justice placed on us by that law written on our hearts, that law under which we were born.
It was not fair that God gave Adam and Eve a promise that would exempt them from the eternal wages of sin. It was not fair that God kept that promise by sending his son, who immediately after our text tells those disciples exactly how his betrayal and condemnation and crucifixion would play out. It was not fair that your mistakes and my wrongs were placed on Jesus’ account. It was not fair that he was pierced for our transgressions and he was crushed for our iniquities. It was not fair that he was condemned in our place. It is not fair that because he lives, we also will live. It is not fair that all of us who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. It is not fair that we sinners should be called children of God. But that is what we are. “How great is the love the father has lavished on us!” It is not fair. It is grace. It is the promise of God that our wages are not what is fair, but what he has promised, what grace gives.
It’s not fair. So praise God. And then go from here, remembering that, thanks to God’s promises, it isn’t fair. So you don’t have to be fair either. Give grace where it isn’t deserved, forgiveness when it isn’t asked, love when all you see is selfishness.
Husbands, buy her flowers when she messes up. Wives, build him up even when he won’t get up off the couch. Friends, encourage the one who cut you down. It doesn’t have to be fair. If God can give more love than we deserve — I’d say it’s a good idea for us too. So praise God that it isn’t fair.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.