In which I point out the only place that one can find total fairness. And you don’t want to go there. More after the jump.
As we leave Epiphany behind, we shift for a couple of weeks from miracles to parables. Parables about farming. This one, and next week, the parable of the sower. That one is certainly about farming. But this one, it uses farming to tell a story about the workers. They are really the center of the parable. It could have been about a factory owner. The workers work, then when they get their pay, they find out that the pay scale isn’t remotely fair.
In Jesus day, if you worked a day, you got a denarius. Two days, two denarii, a half day, a half a denarius, and so on. Yet this man pays all the workers the same. The clear message: You have to give up your notions of fair, if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s a hard one for us. We want things fair. We want to know that if we work hard, we get more than the lazy guy next to us. But the problem with fair is that fair doesn’t get you into the kingdom of heaven. Heaven is inherently unfair, because you don’t deserve it at all.
There is only one place where everyone gets exactly what they have earned: Hell. No one is there who doesn’t deserve to be. No one who is there gets anything more or less than what they have earned. It’s totally, entirely, completely, and in all other ways fair. So, if you are looking for fair, there is a broad and easy road that leads to it.
Jesus wants you to understand that the kingdom of heaven is not fair. Those who work their whole lives for the church get exactly what those who come in at the last minute get. But what exactly are they getting. After you are done with life, there really isn’t going to be a line waiting to get paid where you get a coin. That’s not what Jesus means. Rather, the reward of heaven is given to all those who believe in Jesus name. And it’s not payment. It’s a reward. It’s an inheritance. It’s something you didn’t earn in the first place.
If you want to talk about the person who worked really hard and got less than he should have, let’s talk about him.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
There is one who was bore the heat of the day and the scorching heat. There is one who worked harder than anyone has ever worked, and received, not the fair wages of his work, but instead was punished in your place. And yet, he did it without complaint. He did it without any wining at all. He willingly gave himself into the hands of those who would destroy him. And he did it for you.
Any cry of “That’s not fair” regarding the small injustices of this world must come up against the crushing reality of the unfairness of Jesus death on the cross. That is really not fair. Why do bad things happen to good people? We can’t really ask that question, because we are all sinners. Why do bad things happen to a good person? Because he allowed it to happen for your salvation. He willingly suffered the torments of the cross for you. And yet, that in no way destroyed or diminished him. He is glorified by this suffering. The loving and all giving nature of God is seen in the sacrifice of the only begotten son for you. And he continues to say,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
After the workers in the parable worked, and the owner of the field paid them, those who had worked the whole day and received the same amount complained. The master of the house says, “Take what is yours and go.” Those who want to grumble about fair play, and what is earned, will find that they have priced themselves right out of the love and mercy of God. Take what is yours – what you have earned, and go. There is no joy, no love, no mercy desired. They want more than their fair share. They figure that since others got more than what they were owed, they should too. Such thoughts lead to the hard bitterness of unlove.
That’s not what we are called to be. We are called by the Gospel to receive the gifts of God, given in love to you, and to respond to God by showing love to our neighbor. Not grousing about who has more. It really doesn’t matter who gets more or less in this world, because this world won’t last. This world comes to an end. That we complain and expect God to do this or that and if he doesn’t then what a jerk he is, are really just displaying our sinful self. The problem is not with God and the salvation he gives you – without cost – the problem is you and not fearing, loving and trusting God above all things.
But that very sin, that very inability and unwillingness to trust God to give you every good thing is why he had to send his son for you. That lack of trust in God is sin. And that’s why Jesus died for you. To take your sins away. The paraments have been changed to green. Soon they will be purple. We’re coming up on Lent. Today’s Gospel reading reminds us to prepare – the greatest injustice ever is coming. Jesus is about to be punished for your sins. Not because he has to be. But because he loves you. He wants to you receive the gracious and loving inheritance of his heavenly father. That’s the gift he gives you. Not fair. Thanks be to God it isn’t. Instead, it is salvation itself.