Matthew 20 | Grace Isn’t Fair

by | Jan 9, 2020

Matthew 20 records one of the most powerful parables the Lord ever spoke. It is known as the parable of the Vineyard Workers. A landowner went out early to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage which we learn later was a full day’s wage. Later, at 9am he went to the marketplace and saw some other men standing around doing nothing, so he hired them as well. He agreed to pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. At noon and at three that afternoon he did the same thing.

When the landowner went back at five, he saw more people standingaround and asked them, “Why haven’t you been working today?” They replied,“Because no one hired us.” So, the landowner told them to go out and join the others in the vineyard.

When evening came, the landowner told the foreman to pay the workers beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those who were hired first came to get their pay, they (naturally) assumed that they would receive more, but they were paid a day’s wage like the rest. They immediately protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ But look at the landowner’s response: “Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others.” Jesus closed this teaching repeating what is recorded at the end of chapter nineteen: “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be lost.”

The whole point of this parable is to demonstrate how God’s grace is not distributed because we earn it, but out of the generosity of the landowner. If he chose to pay the last worker the same as the first, that’s up to him. It is lawful for him to do whatever he chooses with his money. In doing so, he was not being unfair to what he had promised. Why then did the other workers despise his generosity?

Many people struggle with the biblical teaching about grace simply because it doesn’t seem fair. They have been brought up with the notion that God must give everyone the same chance if He is to be fair. But this is foreign to the entire idea of grace; grace isn’t getting what we deserve but what we don’t deserve. Do we really want God to be fair and give us what we deserve? Then we should all be tossed into hell for that is what we all truly deserve. But the Lord (portrayed by the landowner in the parable) is generous and gives to those who don’t deserve it the same pay as those who worked all day. What a picture of what the apostle stated in Romans nine: “so then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (9:16).

Reading Paul’s description of our state prior to conversion reveals the depth of our former plight (Ephesians 2:1-3). It is summed up simply as ‘lost and undone without God and his Son.’ We were without hope, without Godin this world. But Paul then introduces two words which changed everything—“but God.” God stepped in and acted on our behalf. Why did he act on sinful humanity’s behalf? Because we deserved it or out of obligation? No; it was because he was “rich in mercy” and “due to his great love” that he lavished upon us the blessing of eternal salvation.

Considering what we were and what he has now made us through grace, it is clear that we have not received what we deserve but what we don’t deserve. Anyway, you cut it, grace isn’t fair. And I for one am glad.