Jesus once told a story about a landowner who hired laborers to harvest grapes from his vineyard. Some employees worked all day, others labored for part of the day, and some arrived to work only at the last hour. The landowner, inexplicably, pays those who were hired last (and worked the least), the same wage as those who were hired first and worked all day.
No matter which way you cut it, this doesn’t seem very fair: Especially for those of us raised with the good old Protestant work ethic, with entrepreneurial capitalism passed along to us in our mother’s milk.
So imagine the scene as it plays out. The tired workers form a line at the end of the day to receive their wages. When the Director of Human Resources arrives with their paychecks, regardless of the hours on the time card, everyone is paid the same! Quickly there is the threat of a labor riot or at least a lawsuit for unfair labor practices. The landowner is summoned an gives this response, “I haven’t been unfair! Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?”
It is a direct and accurate reply, for the angry workers were not enraged over injustice. They were angry because the landowner was generous and gracious to others that had not “earned” their way. The landowner gave grace—making the last first, opening the door to all—and this is what infuriated the other workers.
With this story, Jesus has dug his fingers into a very sore spot for we who are religious people. We preach grace, but we don’t always practice it. We talk about God’s mercy, but we don’t always want the people who need it most to get in on it. We say we are in the redemption business, but we are not eager to open the doors to all would-be patrons.
Landon Saunders says it like this: “Figuring out who is in and who is out is just too much work. It’s too heavy of a burden! Just try to treat every person you meet as if they will be sitting at the table with you in eternity.”
That small change of perspective would do more to advance the kingdom of God on earth than a thousand aggrieved churches that pound their pulpits, point fingers, and exclude others from the love of God and the gates of heaven.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.