Sometimes life just isn’t fair? It’s one of the hard realities we learn early on. You can learn it in kindergarten when that child won’t share with you. You can learn it in primary school when the other children won’t play with you or you’re not invited to a birthday party. You can learn it in high school when the bully keeps picking on you. You can learn it in the work place when you miss out on that job, on that promotion or one day you find out your job is no longer there. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Sometimes we see things as unfair but it’s not that they are unfair but not how we like it, which is highlighted in today’s parable. The landowner was not being unfair at all. Those who complained received exactly what they had agreed to.
They thought it was unfair that the one who came in later got the same as them. And so sometimes we say things are unfair but really it’s to do with our own feelings. When we read the papers and see criminals receiving what we believe to be light sentences or they receive a suspended sentence we may believe it’s unfair even though it has nothing to do with us. We weren’t affected by their actions but we believe they should have been punished more.
Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. In our world, particularly in our First World Society, what we deem as unfair is seen by Third World Countries as abundance. We complain about slow food service – while starving countries get no food. We feel an injustice when our WIFI drops out or when our favourite TV show starts late and we have to wait. We complain about all the reality TV shows when for many countries war and starvation is their reality. We worry about our fashions while children lie naked and exposed to the elements. For some life works pretty well for much of the time. Then life deals a blow and our entire life seems unfair. It seems particular unfair when bad things happen to good people while the wicked sometimes live long and seemingly happy lives; Sometimes life is so unfair and there just are no answers. Job’s friends tried desperately to find a reason for his suffering but couldn’t. They kept insisting with Job to search deeper – surely life could not be that unfair if he hadn’t done anything wrong. Sometimes life is so unfair we can’t begin to understand it. And that’s when we begin to question not just the fairness of life, but the fairness of God, which is what the labourers in the vineyard did. In fact, there are plenty of people in the bible who express their unfairness to God. Jeremiah was one: Cursed be the day I was born! Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? (Jeremiah 20:14-18) I know people who feel like that – maybe you do too. It’s part of the reason why many are pushing for euthanasia laws to end life before it gets to that. Or there’s Habakkuk in the very first verses: How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? (Habakkuk 1:2) But there are others treated unfair who do not complain, like Joseph in the Old Testament dumped in the pit and sold into slavery by his brothers. But because Joseph saw everything from God he was able to forgive.
So many people reject their faith or refuse to believe when they see the unfairness in the world and even within the church:
What kind of God is this? It’s just not fair! Life isn’t fair if you start with the premise that we deserve everything – which is the way modern society has become. We need to hear again and again the words of Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Saying life isn’t fair does not mean God isn’t fair. And that’s because God’s fairness doesn’t work the way ours does. The lives we live are lives that God has given to us; the breath, the clothes on our backs, the food on our table, our health in its varying degrees – are all given by God. But all that fades into insignificance when we consider the amazing grace given to us through Jesus Christ that is beyond all imagination. Even when life seems so unfair we remember Paul’s words: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18) No one deserves God’s grace – which is why we call it grace – an undeserved gift of God.
Everything God gives is pure grace. And because God makes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous does not make God unfair when he only shines it on the unrighteous. We shouldn’t think of God’s love lavished on those we think are undeserving as unfair because God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works. When the labourers cried out “unfair”, the master answered the outcry with a reminder of the justice they received. “Look, you got paid what we agreed on! No matter how unfair the world sometimes seems, God is always fair.” God has promised us eternal life and that is what we will receive through Jesus Christ.
But there are still so many that are standing idle like those in the market place at the 11th hour. And God is making his 11th hour bid and sometimes God’s grace to the undeserving seems unfair. But we remember, we too are undeserving but have been enlightened by grace. God is more loving than we can imagine anyone being. God looks at the workers and says, “I love you regardless of what time you showed up for work, I’m just glad you showed up.” God’s love is not conditional on our behaviour, God just wants us to be in heaven with him. It is a reminder that we need to be grateful for what God has given us, regardless of what he is doing in the lives of other people in order to lead them to eternal life.
The work of God is about love to the world and finding ways to love others even if they don’t agree with us, look like us, or behave in a way we disagree with. One of the best ways we can be signs of love in the world is to say thank you to God and be examples of gratitude. Gratitude is an expression of love that can be a witness to others. Gratitude in life is extraordinarily important because it is how we understand the goodness of God —but also, it is easy to forget to be grateful and to grumble about what we don’t have rather than be grateful for what we have received. Third world countries are becoming the church of the future and the future of our church because they know what it is to have nothing and when they receive anything they give thanks to God. The point of this parable is that we will become blind to the goodness and the fairness of God with a jealous eye.
God’s grace is pure grace. It is the same for everybody. Sadly to some it doesn’t mean as much as we have become comfortable with our affluent lifestyles. To others who have little or nothing God’s grace means a lot more. But the gift of grace is all the same. Sometimes it may seem unfair, but God is never unfair. God took all the unfairness of our lives and our troubled world and placed them on Jesus who suffered the unfairness of death on a cross that we might have life. Jesus died for all so we are not to consider who does or doesn’t seem to deserve God’s grace. Remember that, except for God’s grace in Christ, neither do we deserve anything from God. The kingdom of heaven is a gift. And in Christ it’s never too late to come home to God – just ask the thief on the cross. And that is what God is working hard to do – to bring others into the Kingdom by extending his love and grace – the same love and grace that we have received.