Jesus tells an interesting story in the book of Matthew that illustrates a reason why many of us resist grace—it can be perceived as unfair. Here’s how the story goes:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius (i.e., the usual daily wage of a day laborer) for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.
He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”
The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:1-15)
That’s Not Fair!
Most of us have a deep-seated value of fairness that has been instilled in us from a young age. For example, you get what you deserve. If you do something good, you will reap a reward. If you do something bad, you will be punished. The amount of reward you receive is equal to the amount of work you put in. Etc.
How would you react if you were one of the workers who was hired first? Would you walk away satisfied, because you agreed to work for a denarius and that is what you received? Would you marvel at the generosity of the landowner in how he treated the other workers? Or would you be upset because the landowner was generous with those who worked less and didn’t pay you more?
Grace Isn’t Always Fair
Grace happens when we get something good that we didn’t deserve. Grace is a gift—it isn’t based on the amount of work we put in. Because of that, grace can seem unfair. We might look to the right and left of us, and see other people getting more than they deserve. We forget about the times where we have received grace ourselves.
Grace isn’t always fair, but it’s good. To accept grace for ourselves and extend grace to others, we have to drop the rigid fairness mindset. Yes, fairness is usually a good thing in our world. However, sometimes it’s okay to give people more than they deserve. Grace is powerful, but it costs us something. We have to drop our need for others to get what they deserve. We have to be okay with God giving people good gifts as he sees fit, even if it isn’t technically fair by our standards.
How do you react when someone receives a gift of grace? Are you excited when someone receives grace? Or do you grumble because the person didn’t get what they deserved?