It is considered by some to be the oldest argument on earth since the world was created, “That’s not fair.” Adam and Eve’s two boys, Cain and Abel, brought their offerings to God. God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s offering. Cain said, “That is not fair,” and it resulted in the first murder in the world. Children use the phrase “that’s not fair” often. When something does not suit them they say it is not fair. That is why some families split after the Will and Trust documents are read. It is not fair that he or she gets more than me.
Jesus told a parable in Matthew 20:1-16 about a landlord who went out early in the morning, about six o’clock, to hire workers for his vineyard. This was a common practice in that part of the world, particularly during the harvest season. Storms could easily ruin the crops and it was important to get the harvest in as quickly as possible. The work was hard and tiring, working from dawn to sunset. The wage was a standard one, a denarius or silver coin a day.
During the harvest, men who wanted to work would go to the marketplace and stand around. It was like going to an employment agency in the morning to look for a job for the day. The landowner agreed to pay these workers the standard wage.
About noon he went back to the marketplace and saw some other men standing around doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.”
He went out again about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon, the final hour of the work day, he went out and found still others standing around. The landlord asked them, “Why are you standing idle?” Their response was, “Because no one has hired us.” He told them go and work in his vineyard also.
When quitting time came, the owner of the vineyard said to his accountant, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going onto the first.” The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. Can you imagine how happy these workers were? A full day’s wage for only one hour of work. They would be able to feed their families. They would be able to pay their bills.
When those who were hired first came to be paid, they knew how generous the landlord had been with those who had worked only an hour. They expected a huge bonus. Can you imagine their disappointment when they also received a denarius? They began to grumble and question. “Those who were hired last, worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and heat of the day.”
The landlord answered, “I am not being unfair. Did you not agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I have the right to do what I want with my money. Are you envious because I am generous?”
Then Jesus added these piercing words, “So the last will be first and the first will be last.” This is a parable of the generosity of God. God pours out His grace fully and completely on all who will receive it. We who have labored in the vineyard as Seventh-day Adventist Christians for most
of our lives would like to think that we get an extra measure of grace in return for our many years of service, but it will not happen. Understand that grace is not a retirement benefit. It cannot happen that way. The Father’s love is without limits. He pours out His grace without reservation on all.
God’s grace is poured out in infinite quantities on you and me. It is totally unearned and undeserved, whether we have labored for Christ 40 years or four years. All we have to do to receive God’s grace is to open our hearts to it. To some people, it does not seem fair, but it is a fact. No wonder it is sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace.” God’s grace is shocking, it is amazing, it is wonderful, and it is free. And because we did nothing to deserve it, it is fair. It cost Christ His life on the cross of Calvary—God’s way of being just and yet justifying the ungodly. He is simply unbelievably generous with His grace. It is all yours and mine for the taking and is sufficient for us all.
Leon Thomassian is the Atlantic Union Conference treasurer and trust services director.