The Unfairness of Grace

Matthew 20.1-16


A short sermon given at this week’s Wednesday service of Holy Communion


The parable of the workers in the vineyard is completely unfair.


It tells us that God gives the same rewards to people who work all their lives for him, to lifelong followers and faithful believers who take on all the heavy work and plod on for years, as he does to people who just turn up and decide to follow him at the last minute.


I imagine that there’d be a great outcry if a business did things this way.


If, say, a supermarket paid the same amount to its Saturday workers and its full-time employees.


But this parable is about how things work in God’s kingdom, where everything is ultimately about grace.


Luckily for us, grace isn’t about human ideas of justice, fairness or getting what we deserve.


I say “luckily” because, as Paul says in Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.


If God was being fair and just the kingdom would be pretty empty.


Grace says, “Look, you can’t buy a place in God’s kingdom. It’s worth more than you could possibly imagine. You can’t work your way in either because everything in God’s kingdom has to be perfect and, let’s be honest, you get things wrong all the time. You have no right to be here but come in anyway because God loves you”.


Put another way, the value of getting in to God’s kingdom is so much higher than the value of any work we can do that we can only be given entry as a gift.


And if it’s a gift, we aren’t being cheated of anything if others get good things.


It’s not that God doesn’t give his followers good things or value faithful service but what he gives and will give us so far outweighs what we can earn or deserve that they can’t be considered our rightful wages.


I guess the real problem here is the implications of this generosity.


We can all fall into the trap of thinking we will get a better class of eternal life because of our faithful service.


But people who’ve been Christians from the cradle and people who convert on their deathbeds are equally loved and blessed.


Churchwardens, flower arrangers, organists, clergy and lay ministers have to rub shoulders with people who run a mile when they see a rota coming.


Lifelong criminals who turn to Jesus will get the same rewards as those who’ve kept every law in the book.


We don’t know who grace will let in and who we’ll share eternity with.


We must be open to the possibility that the undesirable and the least deserving may get the same reward as us.


We need to become so much like Jesus that we can rejoice in what God gives us without trying to decide who else he should or shouldn’t be generous to, or how much we should get compared to other people.


This is the grace that saves the world long before it’s condemned.


It’s breathtakingly generous, beautiful, loving and joyful, but also outrageous, disturbing, shocking and uncontrollable.


And if we’re not uncomfortable with it then maybe we haven’t fully understood it.

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