Is the Kingdom of God Fair?
In my daily Bible reading, I recently read through Jesus’ interaction with a wealthy young man and the ensuing parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 19:16-20:16). It should be difficult for Americans to read these two episodes in the gospels because they directly challenge us personally and culturally.
First, the wealthy young man cannot give all for following Jesus because the possessions in his life have too strong a grip on him. He cannot obey Jesus’ words, “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). The greatness of his wealth became a roadblock to his discipleship. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The apostles are flabbergasted in light of the prevailing Jewish view that wealth affirms God’s blessing on one’s life. If those who are wealthy cannot enter the kingdom with ease (19:23-24) then what about those who are not wealthy? What about the ones, like them, who have little and have even given their meager resources for the kingdom? How much more difficult, they thought, will it be for people with little to enter the kingdom.
And so, Jesus goes on to tell a parable to expand on the idea that “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (19:30). It is a parable of troublesome grace for those, like me, who operate on the system of fairness. A landowner hires five rounds of workers through the course of the day to work in his vineyard. While those hired first worked all day, those hired last worked only a few hours. But here is where the scandalous grace comes in: the landowner pays all the workers the same day’s wage regardless of when they began work. The earliest workers agreed to this (20:2, 13), but they are offended by the generosity of the landowner. In the back of my mind, a voice cries out like an alarm: “it’s just not fair!”
But that is just the point. The Kingdom of God is not about fairness, but about grace. What the earliest followers of Jesus thought was the system of fairness in God’s blessing was turned upside down. “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Why? Because in His scandalous generosity, God unleashes grace without measure on all who come to Him. Whether early or late, we all receive an equal portion of the grace of God that is without measure or bounds.
I am a husband to Kelly, father of three boys, a pastor, musician, avid hiker, disciple of Christ. Currently, I am employed as the Senior Pastor at Eastbrook Church in Milwaukee, WI. Before that I was the Associate Pastor at Brooklife Church in Mukwonago, WI, which I helped to plant a few years ago after serving for five years as the Collegiate Ministries Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, WI. I graduated with a Masters in Divinity from Northern Theological Seminary and a Bachelors in English and Christian Education from Wheaton College (IL).