Even at a young age, we began whining out that expression, “That’s not fair!” We did it mostly when somebody else got more than we did. In fact, in this country we usually think of fairness as an absolute right. We believe everyone should be treated the same. When it comes to the administration of human justice, fairness is certainly a good thing. Equal pay for equal work is a good policy to live by.
But did you realize that fairness is not a virtue that God extols in himself? God is never unjust, but to say that he’s always fair is not entirely true. When it comes to money, talent, beauty, power, prestige, position, etc., God gives different people amounts. Some people simply get more than others.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who goes out into the community multiple times a day to hire men to work in his vineyard. Although the laborers get hired at various times throughout the day, all of them receive the same wage at the end of the day. This upsets those who were hired early in the morning, for it meant they were getting the same amount as those who had worked fewer hours than they. When they complain about what they view as patent unfairness, the master challenges their attitude.
In this surprising parable, Jesus is not telling us how to run a business; he’s telling us how his kingdom works. It’s centered around the radical grace of God. His point is that, like the master, God is gracious toward all people, whether they’re seen to be worthy of it or not. He’s not obligated to give anyone grace, let alone the same grace to all people. The parable teaches us that God is not fair—and thank God for that. If God were fair, we’d all be in hell. But God displays extravagant love by seeking the lost and rescuing them at great cost to himself, even to the point of infuriating those with a “holier-than-thou” merit mentality.