I recently had the privilege of listening to a sermon about envy in which the pastor used the parable of the workers who all received a day’s wage no matter how long they worked. (Matthew 20:1-16)
When the workers were paid at the end of the day, the ones who complained were those who worked all day, not those who received a full day’s pay for only two hours’ work.
In a way, it was unjust. It was unfair-- but not to the people who worked all day. They got what they deserved and what they agreed to.
It was unjust to those who only worked a short time but received a full day’s pay.
The landowner argues that it’s his money and he can do with it whatever he wants. “Or do you begrudge me my generosity?” he says.
And there it is.
Why is it that we think another person’s good fortune somehow cheats us? Is it because we view the world with only so many pieces of pie? Is it that if someone gets more than us we are certain it will somehow diminish the number of pie slices in our pie bank account?
But that’s not true at all. As a country, we have far more pie per person than at any other time in history. We have better health, bigger houses, better cars, and more of just about everything than our parents did.
Truly, we have more to be thankful for than ever before.
And yet, we are largely unsatisfied. We continue to strive for more and more.
As our daily bread falls from heaven, we gather it up. And even though we have more, it’s not our supplies that increase--it’s our desires. It’s a never-ending viscous circle.
But the parable is not about our stuff, or even our daily bread.
What Jesus was saying with this parable was that those who come to believe, even at the last minute before death, will receive the same amount of eternal life in heaven as those who have believed since childhood. Some Bible commentators also conclude it’s about salvation for the Gentiles, who do not have the long history of belief in God the Jews did.
But no one I know begrudges the LORD this generosity. Yes! Lord, we say let all who come to believe worship you forever!
And when I consider the parable, it strikes me as just a little bit prophetic for what would later happen between Jesus and the thief on the cross next to Him.
“And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 ESV)
The thief, even though he lived a sinful life, comes to belief and repentance at the last minutes of that miserable life and he will enjoy the full reward of life and joy in heaven forever.
It’s not fair.
The thief doesn’t deserve it. Presumably, he didn’t strive against sin and temptation his whole life. He didn’t go to church every Sunday and tithe and feed widows and orphans. If he visited anyone in prison, it was probably one of his fellow criminals. He didn’t do any of the things “good Christians” should do. He says so himself, admitting he is receiving the just consequences of his actions. (Luke 23:41)
True, it’s not fair. He doesn’t deserve it.
But none of us do.
That’s why it’s called “grace.”
On this Thanksgiving, LORD, I thank you for the most precious, wonderful, amazing gift of all—the grace you showed us in sending your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, to rise again, to take away all our sins and give us eternal life. Amen.
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15 NIV)