I’m going to share a truth that we know is true, but for some reason, it’s easier for us to deny it. The truth I’m speaking of is that sometimes life just isn’t fair. It’s a reality that sooner or later we’re all going to face. It’s best that we are learning this fact while you are in your first half of life than waiting until old age to discover this truth. In fact, you can learn this truth in nursery school – Sometimes lives deals us lemons.
Sometimes that’s the way things happen, isn’t it? Sometimes life isn’t fair. So we learn to deal with the unfairness. So, let me tie this life reality in with the Gospel text today. It’s a crucial point that I don’t want you to miss in the text. Saying life isn’t fair is not the same as saying that God isn’t fair for two reasons. First, of all, because God doesn’t owe you and me anything at all. Like Luther said on his deathbed, “It’s true. We’re all beggars.” And second, God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works.
Saying life is not fair is not the same as saying God isn’t fair because God doesn’t owe us anything at all. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, the very opposite is correct. We owe God everything: our time, our talents, and our treasures. The very life that lives inside each of us has been gifted to us; even the breaths that you take, the clothes on your back, the food that is prepared for you, even your health to some extent is a gift from God. The simple fact is: God doesn’t owe us anything.
As active disciples of Christ, we commit our lives to God. We resist the urge not to show up or to sleep in on our Sunday morning to worship God. We spend our hard-earned money and resources to support the work and ministry of our congregation. We spend time in prayer and the study of Scripture when we could be golfing or some recreation. Our confirmation students could do something with their one hour on Wednesday nights other than talking about faith formation. You see, as active Christians, we follow Jesus, the landowner into the vineyard, where we are called to do the work of God.
For us, active disciples of Christ, things may not always seem the way we would like. It doesn’t seem fair to us that some deserve God’s grace when they don’t even show up or participate. We are the ones, after all, who’ve done most of the work, we tell ourselves. The laborers in the parable that began picking the first hour of the day picked more grapes than those who started picking the last moment. If that were to happen today, there would be an uproar; labor strikes and unions would lash out. It is only right that the reward for our work should be consistent with the time we put into our efforts.
But this parable has nothing to do with economics, at least in the sense that we understand the economy. It is not a description of how employers should treat workers. It is, after all, a description of how God works in the kingdom of heaven. God’s goodness may or may not be entirely understandable. We don’t fully understand the grace of God. And based on this parable, we may indeed think that God doesn’t operate fairly.
God’s not fair, according to our limited human reasoning. In fact, if we put ourselves in the place of the laborers who started at sunrise or midmorning or even early afternoon, we have missed the point of the parable. Jesus is the one who works from sunup to sundown. Jesus is the one who has borne the burden of the day and heat. Only Jesus has earned us salvation. The grace is that God still calls us towards God’s self and gives us the full wage. God offers you the promise of salvation, not because you have worked hard enough but because Jesus has done it for you.
God gives us more than we can ever earn. The Bible teaches that the wages of sin are death, but it is God who gives life. The laborers in the vineyard all received a full day’s pay regardless of the hours they worked. We have all been given salvation, irrespective of the sins we’ve been under.
And perhaps even more remarkable is that God has entrusted us to do God’s work. In baptism, we’ve been given the work of a lifetime, and at the table, God renews us and then sends us out as labors to plant the seeds of God’s word, to speak to those who have never heard and to proclaim the word anew to those who have fallen away.
Remember that the kingdom of heaven is a gift, and in a way, we’re all latecomers, aren’t we? In Christ, it’s never too late to come home to the mercy of God. Thanks, be to God. Amen.