Harvey. Irma. Earthquakes in Mexico. Fires in the Northeast. Why are some afflicted and others spared? “That’s not fair!”
I read a story about a man who was convicted and imprisoned for 16 years starting in 1940 for a crime two other men committed. The jailed man had been 1700 miles away when the crime was carried out, but when arrested he was friendless and penniless. He was quickly convicted and sentenced. “That’s not fair!”
Two people do the exact same wrong thing. One gets caught and punished. The other suffers no consequences. “That’s not fair!”
You hear about it on the news and from your family. It may be the kids arguing about who gets to ride “shotgun” or a ref making a bad call during a ball game or someone getting a promotion who doesn’t deserve it. We all have our reasons to cry out “That’s not fair!”
That was the attitude of the workers first hired in today’s Gospel Lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) They had done more work and borne the heat of the day, yet those workers hired for just the last hour received the same wages at the end of the day. They were all paid the same regardless of when they started. To their and our way of thinking, “That’s not fair.” We want equal pay for equal work. At least we say we do. Actually, we don’t mind too much if we get equal pay for less work, or more pay for less work, but we don’t want to be the ones who do more work and not get any more in return. This parable speaks of equal wages for all the workers no matter how long they toiled. The point being made is that God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness are His to give as He sees fit.
The ones who worked all day were envious because the landowner was generous. We often feel the same way when we see someone else being blessed by God. After all, haven’t we worked hard for Him? Don’t we try to do what He tells us? Shouldn’t we be rewarded? We operate under the old, mistaken notion that God owes us something based on our behavior or obedience, that we have somehow qualified ourselves for a prize.
The truth of the matter is that to be deserving of some kind of reward from God, you have to be perfect, and none of us will ever come close to that. We all need to be reminded that if we receive anything from God, it is not something we have earned. It is a gracious gift. And when you think about it, “That’s not fair!”
- C. Sproul wrote in “Preaching Today” about teaching 250 college freshmen. He told them “Three papers are assigned, due by noon the last day of each month. Those turned in late will receive an F.” On September 30, 225 students handed in their papers; 25 hadn’t finished. Scared, they begged for an extension. He relented. October 31 came around. Two hundred students brought papers; 50 nervous students came empty-handed. Citing midterm pressures, they asked for another chance. “Okay,” I said, “but this is the last time.” On November 30, 150 students brought their papers; 100 others strolled in unconcerned. “Where are your papers?” he asked. One student replied, “We’ll have ’em in a couple of days, no sweat.” He picked up his grade book. “Johnson! Do you have your paper?” “No, sir.” “F,” he said as wrote the grade down. “That’s not fair!” the students howled. “Lavery! Weren’t you late with your paper last time?” he asked. “If you insist on justice, I’ll not only give you an F for this assignment, but change your last grade to F as well.”
That’s what we do with God. We first plead for mercy, then take it for granted. Because He’s gracious, we begin to expect and demand His mercy and are surprised by His judgment.
Yet we insist on justice. You can all remember a time when you were unfairly punished for something you didn’t do. Despite protesting your innocence, you were made to suffer. You thought or said, “I didn’t do anything. Why should I be punished?” You remember the self-righteous indignation of being punished for something you did not do.
How do you think Jesus felt? Our completely innocent Lord took the blame and the judgment and the punishment for the sins of all people. He had not done anything worthy of any kind of punishment, yet was punished for the sins of everyone. Your guilt and shame were put on Jesus so that you would not have to get what you deserve. Now that is not fair. Yet that was God’s plan, His way and His thought that are described in Isaiah as being “higher” than ours.
Since God’s ways and God’s thoughts are higher than ours, we need to examine our ways. When we say we seek justice, we usually mean what seems fair to us, what is in our own best interest, without taking the other parties into consideration. Our ways tell us that if someone does you wrong, get revenge. If someone hurts you, don’t get mad, get even.
God’s ways are not like that. His thoughts are different.
- God’s thoughts include forgiveness. Even though your sins have earned punishment and death, God does not hold sin against those who put their faith in Christ Jesus. Instead, He forgives you.
- God’s way includes grace. He gives you eternal life freely, a gift with no strings attached.
- God’s way includes mercy. You are undeserving, but He wants you to have salvation.
God’s ways and thoughts could never have been conceived or dreamed up had He not told us about them. Our lives deserve to be punished because we have not met the high standards God established for His people. But because of God’s grace that reaches out to all people in Christ Jesus and our faith in what He did for us, we will get off without even a slap on the wrist. That’s not fair.
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
It’s not fair that God can be found – we don’t deserve it – yet we live in a time of grace. God could be remote and inaccessible, wanting to stay as far away from the stench of our sins as possible. And He would be justified to come into the world and wipe it all out because of sin. Yet He chooses to be approachable, to invite us into His presence. He is readily accessible.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
All you have to do is turn from your sins and to the Lord. You have been called to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus. God is then merciful and forgiving. Instead of coming to destroy, He came into this world to reconcile, to pardon and to save. Now He is patiently giving people the opportunity to call to Him for mercy and be saved. That’s not fair.
When you think about the relationship you have with God through faith in Jesus Christ, the pardon in spite of sin, the life instead of death, blessing instead of punishment, you have to admit: That’s not fair! God is not fair. If God were fair we would all be in trouble. But God is not fair because God is gracious, merciful and forgiving for Jesus’ sake. Thank God He is not fair!