I became a Christian when I was 27 years old. 3 years later I was enrolled in seminary to begin training to become a minister.
I often wondered what would have happened had I taken the opportunity to go to church when I was younger. What did I miss? How many years of knowing God did I lose? Did I miss out on starting ministry when I would have been younger? Instead of 35 years old, what if I had been 25? What sort of difference would that have made?
Then I read Bible verses Matthew 20:1-16. The story of the labourers in the vineyard.
At the start of each day, landowners would head into the market early every morning to find people to work in their fields. So those looking for work knew to be there early as well in hopes of being chosen.
This particular landowner did just that. He went and found some men to work for him. Long, 12 hour days in the hot sun, out in the fields. All for one denarius.
A few hours later, the landowner was in the market and saw other men. He invited them to work in his field. And so they did.
He did this again every few hours, right up until the 11th hour of the 12 hour work day. He kept inviting more workers into his field.
At the end of the day, they lined up for their payment in reverse order from when they arrived.
One by one, each labourer took home one denarius. A full day’s wage.
Imagine you are at the end of the line. You are watching those who arrived and worked one hour getting a full days wage. You immediately recognize that this is a very generous landowner, and you might start getting excited.
Because if those who worked only a few hours got a full day’s wage, imagine what you would get for working a full 12 hours!
Then you watch as those who worked 3 hours, then 6 hours, then 9 hours, and they all still received one denarius. You might start to get a little upset. You might be thinking, “This doesn’t look good. This doesn’t look good at all. If I get to the table and he only gives me one denarius, then I’m giving him a piece of my mind!”
And when you finally do get to the head of the line. You arrive at the table, you reach out for your rich reward… and you get. One. Denarius.
The exact same as everyone else.
How would you feel?
Cheated? Treated unjustly? Unfairly? Angry?
You worked in the hot, sweaty field all day long, and this guy gives you the same pay as those who worked for one hour in the cool of the evening!
And in the story, the worker does indeed give the landowner a piece of his mind.
What’s fair about that?
When you look at this story, really, nothing is fair about what is happening.
We are all told that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. You will benefit in reputation and riches because of that hard work. It’s how the world works. Entire economies are built on this principal.
What does Jesus do with that expectation with this story?
He turns it upside down.
Those bums who couldn’t drag themselves out of bed for the early morning just got the same amount of money as you, for a fraction of the work.
If they are mad enough to spit nails… they have every right to.
And so what does this tell us about God?
Does it mean we have an unfair God? An unjust God?
Let’s look at that.
Parables are what Jesus uses to describe God’s nature and the nature of the kingdom of heaven.
So what is Jesus describing in this story?
It begins, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.”
God is the master of the house, he is the landowner.
God draws people to himself, and in the end they all get the same payment.
What this tells me, is it doesn’t matter if I’m 7, or 27, or 127, nothing changes in how God is going to treat me when I make the choice to follow Jesus.
So, for me to wish I had spent more time in church growing up, it’s just a bit of a selfish wish on my part, because I just wish I had known God sooner in my life. It does not change how He feels about me because it doesn’t matter when I come to know Him. He treats me the same either way.
God is going to treat me just the same as anyone else, at any stage of their life, when they come to know Him too.
Is that unfair?
Is that worth complaining about?
It’s a beautiful thing, and it flies in the face of what the world expects.
The expectations on the landowner is a good example of how things work in the world. Always has, and continues to be. We are taught to work hard from the very beginning, we work favour and salary, promotions and prestige, we work towards a brighter future. We’re told to work our way up the corporate ladder.
That’s how business works. That’s how the world works.
That’s NOT how God works.
God treats all His children equally. Now matter where they are in their life. No one is treated better than another.
No one is punished because they did not know God early enough in their life. No one is punished because they’ve decided to have a death bed confession.
There is no need for any punishment.
It’s about God’s grace, grace shared with all who come to Him.
If you welcome God into your life, you are His, and you are equal to everyone other Christian out there.
Jesus took the punishment for us. All our sin, he carried it himself to the cross where he was brutally punished and killed.
There is no need for any more punishment. Jesus took it all for us.
And as he said in the Gospel of John, Jesus leaves us his peace, his grace, his love.
And in the journey of Lent, we are walking with Jesus towards that cross. The cross where he, the Son of God, took the punishment we deserve and bore it on our behalf.
Jesus was completely innocent. He was perfect. He was sinless. He did no wrong.
And he died because we are not perfect.
He died because we are full of sin.
That’s how much he loves us.
Whether we are 5 years old, 55 years old, or 105 years old. He loves us equally.
We all are worthy of God’s grace, no matter who we are.
And he sent Jesus to show us just how far He is willing to go to give us His grace.
Even to a cross.
So let us continue to walk with Jesus through Lent.
Let us continue to be reminded of his sacrifice,
but also his great love for us.
And how He is so ready to let his grace flow into our lives.
A grace which changes our lives, even though His love never changes.
His love never changes.
Thanks be to God.