Is God Unfair in How He Treats People?

Matthew 20

1“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5At noon and again around three o’clock he did the same thing. 6At five o’clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

7“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The owner of the estate told them, ‘Then go on out and join the others in my vineyard.’

8“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11When they received their pay, they protested, 12‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’

16“And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.”
(Matthew 20: 1-16, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever been treated unfairly or unjustly? As a kid, when things didn’t work in my favor, I would usually cry out, “that’s not fair!”

But what is fairness? What is just and what is unjust?

In this passage from Matthew 20, Jesus shares a story that may cause you to rethink your view and understanding of fairness and justice.

In the scenario, a vineyard owner goes out early in the day and hires a number of day workers to work in his fields. He agrees to pay them the normal accepted wage for their labor.

At mid-morning the owner hires more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever is right at the end of the day. The owner hires more laborers at noon and again at 5:00, just one hour before the end of the day.

When the work day ends and it’s time to settle up with the workers, those who had worked only 1 hour receive their pay, which turns out to be a full day’s wages.

Naturally, those who worked the full day think they will receive more since they worked longer.

But when the time comes to pay those who worked all day, they receive the same amount that the owner paid those who worked only 1 hour. The workers who worked all day are incensed. How could the owner pay them the same amount even though they worked a whole day when the last group worked only for one hour? It doesn’t seem fair!

What do you think? Was the owner being unfair? Your answer may reveal how you view God and His system of fairness.

The problem is not that the owner is unfair. The problem is that our understanding of fairness is wrong. People tend to operate on a merit based system, or a meritocracy, where those who work harder and achieve more are rewarded more. As a result, we’re conditioned to believe that those who worked less somehow got more. BUT THEY DIDN’T. They got the same outcome and the same payment as those who had worked the full day.

God, who is represented by the vineyard owner, does NOT operate in a meritocracy. God operates in an environment of grace and generosity. He lavishes grace on whomever He chooses. While some might look at this story and conclude that God gave a higher hourly wage to some over others, which seems unfair, Jesus invites the reader and His audience to look at this scenario in a different way.

Instead of assuming God is treating some favorably over others, the point of the story is that God shows compassion and graciousness on some while not disaffecting others. In other words, those who came to work late were generously given the same portion as those who worked the whole day.

Here’s the key point: Those who worked the whole day were not negatively disaffected by the owner’s generosity. They were simply annoyed because of their own greed and envy.

If you think of the daily wage as representing salvation, then in this parable, anyone who responds to the invitation of the owner, no matter how early or late, receives the same outcome – eternal life! It’s not possible for some who respond early to receive a greater amount of eternal life than someone who responds late. The outcome is the same – anyone who responds to the owner (God) will receive the gift of eternal life (a full day’s wage), no matter when they respond.

So what do you think? Does this story demonstrate that God is unfair to some? NO. If anything, it shows how gracious and generous He is while also showing that those who THINK He’s unfair are often motivated by their own jealousy and envy.

Reflection

How have you interpreted and understood this passage in the past? How have you explained the fact that the owner pays a higher hourly wage to some than others? Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that inequitable?

What do you say to those who claim that God is unfair or that He doesn’t treat people equitably? 

How do you personally reconcile the idea that some come to Christ and serve Him early in life while others may respond to His invitation late in life and yet the outcome is the same? How does this contradict or confirm your own understanding of fairness with God?

What practical ideas do you have for cultivating a deeper, more biblical understanding of God’s graciousness and fairness?

 

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

A Trap Religious Leaders Can Fall Into

Matthew 21

33“Now listen to this story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34At the time of the grape harvest he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

37“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

38“But when the farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39So they grabbed him, took him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

40“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

41The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

42Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone rejected by the builders has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous to see.’

43What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls. ”

45When the leading priests and Pharisees heard Jesus, they realized he was pointing at them—that they were the farmers in his story. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid to try because the crowds considered Jesus to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jesus often spoke in parables to teach spiritual truths. In this parable, the landowner is the Lord and the farmers are the Pharisees. The servants represent the Old Testament prophets that God continually sent to warn His people, but who were constantly rejected.

In the story, the landowner finally sends his son, who represents Jesus.

In the parable, the farmers decide to kill the son because they don’t want to relinquish control and power. They don’t want to serve the owner and give him his portion of the proceeds. They want to BE the owner and keep all the proceeds for themselves.

Jesus explains the meaning of the parable in verse 43:

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.

The fruit Jesus is referring to is the nation of Israel’s acceptance of Him as the Messiah. Since the religious leaders were rejecting Jesus, and they used their power and influence over the people to keep the people from accepting Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus is warning them that their status as God’s special chosen people was in danger. Like the farmers in the story who were stewards of their master’s land, the Israelites were simply stewards of the message and revelation of the one true God. By rejecting Jesus, this stewardship would be taken away from them and given to another nation.

What is this other nation Jesus was referring to?

Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 which was also referenced by Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-7, in which Peter says that Jesus is building a new temple made up of those who would follow Him. Thus this new nation is not a physical nation, as Israel was, but a spiritual nation with those who believe in Jesus as its citizens. I wrote about this new temple here.

Jesus was using this parable to show the Pharisees that they were rejecting the Son because they didn’t want to relinquish their religious control over the people. Verses 45-46 indicate that the religious leaders realized what Jesus was saying about them. However, instead of repenting, their inclination is to arrest him.

This parable was directed at the Pharisees and the nation of Israel and the punishment Jesus mentions cannot be duplicated for us today. So how then does this parable relate to us in our current culture? What can we learn from it?

Though we cannot reject Jesus in the same way, and thus we cannot experience the same penalty Jesus mentions, I think there are lessons we can learn from the way the Pharisees responded to God and the revelation He was giving them.

I think one potential lesson is that there is a dangerous trap for religious leaders, or anyone who is in a position of authority over others. The trap is to think so highly of yourself that you believe the people you are leading cannot get along without you. Instead of shepherding people to follow the Lord, we can become enamored with our own voice and our own self-importance and we can become consumed with gaining and maintaining a following for ourselves.

Being in authority and power over others, as the Jewish religious leaders were, can become so addictive and necessary to our own identity that we will do whatever is necessary to keep it. In the case of the Pharisees, they were willing to kill the Messiah himself to keep it.

We’re not in a position today to kill the Messiah to hold onto our power and authority, but we may still go to great lengths to keep our positions, including lying, deception, manipulation, intimidation, fear, bribery, harassment, etc.

Reflection

In the parable, God sends his messengers to convey truth but the messengers are constantly rejected. What are some of God’s messages (doctrinal truths or commands) that you find difficult to follow and are tempted to reject?

In the parable, the outcome of the nation of Israel rejecting the Son is their stewardship is taken away and given to another nation. What do you think will be the outcome for those who reject Jesus today? How will God treat the farmers of today who continually reject the messengers, including His son, whom God has sent?

What are some situations or relationships where you have found yourself wanting to maintain power and control when you know you should release it? 

Some people will go to great lengths to maintain power, authority, status or position? What do you think causes a person to adopt an “any means necessary” policy to maintain their power?

 

Photo by Alex Gorbi on Unsplash