SERMON: IT’S JUST NOT FAIR
Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 Matthew 20:1-16
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may heed your warnings against pride and arrogance, but also rejoice in your abundant and undeserving grace, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s just not fair!
How many times have you said or thought ‘it’s not fair’?
For example, it’s not fair that some people are rich and others are poor. It’s not fair if you don’t have the same fancy house or nice cars or expensive gadgets like other people. It’s not fair you don’t have the same intellect or abilities as others. It’s not fair you’re not as slim or as beautiful as the people on television or in the magazines. It’s not fair when you have health concerns that affect your lifestyle and abilities. It’s not fair your neighbour’s farm got some rain and you didn’t. It’s not fair when the young don’t respect the elderly. It’s not fair when people are retrenched from their jobs. It’s not fair when petrol prices go up and new taxes are brought in.
It doesn’t stop there. It’s also not fair when the young die tragically, while the aged cling to life even though they want to go to their eternal home. It’s not fair some good and faithful people suffer from cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and so on, while others who have abused their bodies through alcohol and drugs can live relatively healthy lives.
It’s also not fair when natural disaster strikes. It’s not fair when evil people seem to profit from their crimes, while the innocent suffer at their hands or are criticised for doing the right thing. It’s not fair that innocent babies are aborted from life before they have a chance to bless their parent’s lives. It’s not fair when some are born with disabilities or genetic disorders.
Even in the church you might not think it’s fair. Why aren’t you always recognised or thanked for your hard work? Why do people often take your long and hard service for granted? Why do some of your loved ones not have faith in Jesus?
It’s just not fair!
Talking about what’s not fair, Jesus explains the kingdom of heaven is like a householder going out at 6am in the morning to find some workers to work in his vineyards. They agree to work for him for an average (if not above average) day’s pay.
This same householder also goes out at 9am, 12pm, 3pm, and even at 5pm to get more workers. Each time he agrees to pay them what’s right.
Then at 6pm he tells his foreman to pay them their wages, starting with the ones who were hired last. Remarkably and very generously, he gave them all a full day’s wage, no matter how long they worked.
Now for all those hired from 9am onwards, this wasn’t fair, but the unfairness worked in their favour. They weren’t going to complain because the owner has given them more than their fair share. They didn’t deserve this payment, but the owner decided to be generous toward them.
But seeing the owner’s generosity, the first workers expected to receive more than the others, even though they had earlier agreed with the owner to work for the same wage. Therefore, when they received the same amount as the others, they grumbled about it, saying they worked much harder and longer in the burning sun than anyone else, so why should they receive the same? It doesn’t seem fair!
Then the owner reminded them that he hasn’t done them wrong. He gave them the agreed amount. No injustice had been done. He just wanted to give everyone the same amount, and isn’t it his right to do what he wants with his own things? He then asked them if they are jealous because of his generosity. Or, literally, he asks them if their eyes are evil because his is good?
Ahhh, those monstrous green eyes of jealousy! That’s what makes it unfair! The focus is shifted away from the generous giver to the jealous eyes of the individual. When you say it’s unfair, it’s no longer about God and his generosity, but it’s all about you!
It’s not fair because you think you deserve better. You deserve better treatment. You deserve more respect. You deserve more understanding, and you deserve more reward or recognition for all your hard work. Every time you say ‘it’s unfair’ you’ve already made a judgment, often based on deserving. You want people to get what they deserve – either in a positive or a negative way. When you or other people don’t get what you or they deserve, you want to get upset.
But who said life was ever about ‘deserving’ or that it’s ever ‘fair’?
Of course you can get upset that things aren’t fair because God doesn’t work by all the normal rules of reward and punishment. You want the good to be rewarded and the bad to be punished. In other words, you want to tell God what he should and shouldn’t do. But when you want to tell God what to do, you want to be God!
The grace of God can be quite challenging because God doesn’t work on a deserving basis. God works on a grace system, and grace ignores all the normal rules of reward and punishment. In Jesus’ parable the workers who didn’t work the whole day didn’t deserve the full day’s wage, but that’s the point! Grace is unfair, and always will be, because it’s undeserving!
The ones who get upset with God’s grace are often those who think God works, or should work, on a reward system. They’re upset with the Lord’s goodness and are trying to boast of their own as if they deserve to be number one, as if they deserve to be treated better. In this case, it’s a matter of spiritual pride. The proud, ambitious and arrogant are often the ones who have striven so hard to be one of the firsts in God’s sight, only to find God doesn’t work on a reward system, but a grace system. The grace system makes the first ones last and the last ones first. It’s unfair. It’s undeserving. But that’s what grace is!
Now I know many Christians have struggled with this parable because they can be jealous of those who come to faith later in life and still get the same gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. But it’s more than just this.
If God wants to bless someone else, what’s it to you? God can bless whom he wants to bless. He can be gracious and generous with his own things. It’s not up to you to say what he does with his own gifts. He doesn’t have to answer to you. He hasn’t broken any promises to you. He still loves you and has provided you with everything you need, like food and clothing, home and family, work and income, strengths, abilities, and senses.
He’s also given you eternal life, salvation and peace with God as a free gift. None of you deserve any of these things, but God gave them to you as a free gift. He chose to give these same gifts to the people around you as well. It doesn’t matter whether they deserve them or not. They’re God’s gifts and he can do whatever he wants with them.
If you want to complain about things not being fair, look to Jesus on the cross.
Martin Luther puts it well: ‘Jesus rescued me when I was lost and sentenced to death. He has set me free from all my sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. It cost him more than gold or silver; it cost him his life. Even though he was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for me.’
It’s just not fair, but that’s what grace is! Jesus died for you and for me. He did the time for our crime. This is God’s grace at work. The criminals go free while the innocent One dies. No one here deserves Jesus’ death, and no one here deserves Jesus’ life, but ‘deserving’ has nothing to do with it! All of us equally receive the generous and undeserved gift of eternal life with Jesus in heaven! It’s not fair, but thank God it’s not fair!
There are many times in your life you’ll grumble how so many things are ‘unfair’. This will often be because of your selfishness and pride. You’ll often think you deserve better. Other times you’ll shake your heads when you hear of other people not being treated fairly. Maybe you think they deserve better, or maybe you wonder what they did to deserve their situation.
But remember that life and faith isn’t about being fair or about deserving.
When you’re tempted to grumble or complain about life not being fair, look to Jesus on the cross and see the greatest unfairness in the world, but on that same cross also see the greatest and most generous justice of God. The grace of God is purposely unfair. On the cross the first One became one of the last ones in order that the last ones would become like the first One.
One commentator said “the lasts become firsts by sheer grace, not by work performed. The firsts become lasts because of a bloated self-consciousness, not from a failure to do good works. Lasts become firsts by grace; firsts become lasts by hubris”, that is, by pride, arrogance and ambition.
Through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you’ve all been given the free gift of faith. You’ve all been given the free privilege of being called children of the living God. You’ve all been offered the free gift of forgiveness. You’ve all freely received the Holy Spirit. You’ve all freely received Christ’s victory over death. You’ve all been chosen by God’s grace to receive eternal life with Jesus in heaven. You’ve all been freely given these things and much more, and none of it because you deserve it.
When others complain or grumble to you about life not being fair, point them to Jesus on the cross. Let them see the unfairness of his life and death. Let them see how undeserving we are. Shift their eyes away from their selfishness, their pride, or their grief, and point them to the most generous giver and his free gifts.
No, life and faith isn’t about deserving. Grace just isn’t fair – thanks be to God!
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
This message from Pastor Arnold Cooper is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project