Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Vineyard Workers

One of my cousins sent me a link to a video as an example of how grace isn’t fair. The video is of a woman who had been out of church for many years talking about going to church and hearing the parable of the vineyard workers. She also tells how she taught this parable to VBS kids that you might find useful if you ever have the opportunity to teach this parable. For some reason, I watched this video several times. I’m not sure why. I think it might be because some of what the woman says doesn’t seem to sit right with me. I’m not sure that I agree with her take on the parable. Before I go into that, I’ll let you watch the video:

Grace Is Not Attractive from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

One of the things I see here is the difference between what we often think of as fair and what true justice is. By definition, to be fair and to be just are essentially the same thing, but when we teach fairness to kids we often do so in terms of equal treatment. We might ask little Billy, “If I let you have a cookie before supper and I don’t let little Suzy have a cookie, is that fair?” It certainly isn’t equal, but is it fair? But that’s not really what the parable is talking about. Suppose we told Billy that if he would take out the trash we would give him a cookie. He does, so we give him a cookie, but Suzy wants one too. Which is more fair? To give him one and not give her one or to give them each a cookie? Maybe to give him two and her one? But we only promised him one and he doesn't need more. That still isn’t quite the way the parable is structured, but we see that our concept of fairness isn’t always clear.

In the parable, a man goes out to hire some workers and he tells them he will pay them a day’s wages for their work. They agree to this and go to work in his vineyard. Later in the day, he see some more guys who are looking for work and he tells them he’ll pay them what if right if they’ll work that day. Later he finds more workers who agree to work for what is right. Even at the last hour of the day he finds workers who need work. At the end of the day, he pays them their wages, from the last to the first. Those who worked an hour, he gives a day’s wages. Those he hired in the middle of the day he gives a day’s wages. Those he hired at the first come to him and expect they will get more than the others, but he gives them a day’s wages. Like the woman in the video, we might ask, how is that fair?

This is a parable, so it draws some parallels to some specific people and concepts, but before we look at that, let’s look at this just like it is. The first workers agreed to work one day for a day’s wages. That is what they got. That is just. If we ignore the other workers and look at the workers at the end. They spend a whole day hoping for work, they are hired at the end and they receive a day’s wage. It isn’t their fault he didn’t hire them earlier. There is nothing unjust about him paying them a day’s wage. For that matter, it is his money, he can do what he wants. The thing that makes this look unfair is that the early workers worked all day and the ones at the end only an hour and they both received the same amount. The problem with our thinking is that I as an individual think I deserve the same blessing that others receive. That’s why employers don’t like their employees finding out what the other workers are making. If one is paid more, the others will think they deserve more too.

Some people try to make this parable about salvation. The primary reason for that is that it talks about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 20:1). They then link it back to Matthew 19:23, which talks about how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. There is also the fact that the workers all receive the same thing, just as all of the saints receive salvation, no matter how much they work during this life.

But look at the discussion in Matthew 19:27-30. Peter points out how much the twelve have done for Christ and asks what they will receive. If the rich man would receive treasure for selling all and giving to the poor, Peter wanted to know what they would receive for leaving their families. Jesus tells them part of what they will receive. Then we see the statement in Matthew 19:30, “many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” This is significant because we see that again at the end of the parable (Matthew 20:16). This seems to indicate that Jesus is addressing Peter’s concerns through this parable.

I think we can understand the workers to be referring to the saints. Jesus has promised us all heavenly rewards for our service to him, but we don’t all have equal opportunity to serve him. One may have a short life. One may have a long life. One may be able to serve the Lord with their family. One may be forced to leave his family to serve God. In Peter’s statement, I think we see him comparing his service to that of other people. What the parable seems to be saying is that God doesn’t base our rewards on what he has agreed to give others. Instead, he bases his evaluation of our service on our service and our service alone. What he gives us in the way of blessings and rewards is his to control and we have no right to say that he should give us more because someone else is receiving more. It is his to do with as he pleases.

When we consider that God has already given us his son without our doing anything to earn it, we have no reason to complain if God were to give us nothing more and shower blessings down on someone else. But that’s not what God does. God knows what is best for each of us and he will give us what he knows is right. And that’s still more blessings than we know what to do with. Let’s not worry about what God is doing for others that he isn’t doing for us. Instead, let’s ask ourselves if what God is giving us is right.

How Calvary Would Change If You Were the Only Sinner

“…If you were the only sinner in human history, nothing about Calvary would have changed.” – Denison

I saw this quote on Facebook. It looks about like what you might see on a church sign. I tend to pick church sign sayings apart. This particular saying looks good, but it is true?
In a word, no. What I believe this person was trying to say is that if you were the only sinner, Christ would have died for you anyway. There’s actually strong Biblical basis for that. II Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

It’s really a hypothetical situation we’re talking about, so since it isn’t God’s will that any perish, we could say that he would have sent his Son to die for one sinner, if that’s all there was. But that’s not what the quote says. The quote says that “nothing about Calvary would have changed.” There is a great deal about Calvary that would have changed if you were the only sinner in human history.

One thing that would have changed is that Jesus wouldn’t have been crucified between two thieves. As he hung there on the cross, he wouldn’t have had to listen to one of them heckling him and we wouldn’t have this beautiful picture of him telling the other “today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” They wouldn’t be there because they wouldn’t have been thieves and they would’ve had no reason to be on the cross.

Another thing that would have changed is that Judas wouldn’t have betrayed Jesus. Judas wouldn’t have sinned if you were the only one. The religious leaders wouldn’t have come to take Jesus at night and there never would’ve been a trial.

Then consider the method of Jesus’ execution. That would have changed too. What would the Roman soldiers know of crucifixion if they had never encountered anyone worthy of death? They certainly wouldn’t be crucifying innocent people, because you would be the only sinner and you wouldn’t have been born yet. And why would we need soldiers at all? With no sinners, there would be no invading forces to worry about.

If you were the only sinner, Jesus wouldn’t have been the Passover Lamb. There never would have been a Passover because Pharaoh would have never prevented the Jews from leaving Egypt. An all those blood sacrifices would’ve never taken place.

While it may sound good to say that nothing would have changed if you were the only sinner in history, the fact is that it would have. We don’t really know what would have happened if there were only one sinner in history, but we do know that when God saw our needed he saw all of our need. While we might enjoy thinking about God’s love for us as individuals, let’s not forget that Jesus died for the world.