Have you ever felt like someone was playing “favourites”? God doesn’t. As Steph Nickel reminds us, “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”
It’s not fair!
The following are excerpts from the first sixteen verses of Matthew 20: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too . . . And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages’ . . . when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house . . . But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?’ . . . So the last will be first, and the first last.”
“It’s not fair!”
We’ve all heard it, whether we’re parents or not. On the rare occasion when my children were young and would say this, I reminded them that it’s a good thing that God isn’t fair or we’d all be in big trouble. As I’ve often mentioned, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of His glory, as it says in Romans 3:23.
It wasn’t fair that Jesus, the Holy One, died for sins He didn’t commit. But because of His love for us, that’s just what He did. And today’s passage is evidence that God is generous and loving. It is also evidence that He doesn’t play favourites.
The Prodigal Son
This passage reminds me of another in the Scriptures. You may have heard the story of the prodigal son. This young man demanded his inheritance and quickly squandered it away. He hit rock bottom, as we say these days. He decided to return to his father and ask for a job as one of his servants. At least that way he would have something to eat. But upon his return, his father was overjoyed and threw a huge party. After all, his long lost son was home.
There is another key character in this story—one I’m not thrilled to admit that I could relate to—the prodigal’s older brother. When he came in from a hard day’s work, he inquired what was going on. And when he found out, he was not at all happy. After all, he was the faithful son, the hardworking son, the one who didn’t throw away his inheritance.
Bottom line: He was jealous and he complained to his father. “It just isn’t fair!”
And where have we heard that before? Just because the father in this story rejoiced when the prodigal returned home didn’t mean he loved his older son any less. And just because the master in today’s reading gave all the workers the same wages—no matter how long they had worked—may show he was unfair from our perspective, more so, it shows how generous he was.
If the labourers and the older son understood and obeyed the imperative we read in Romans 12:15, which says we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” they wouldn’t have been so inclined to resent others.
God is Kind and Generous
How can we apply this to our own lives and teach these principles to our children?
- We can talk about who we relate to in the stories and pray together that God would change our perspective as needed. This is one of those times it will help our children if we are completely open and honest with them. Realizing that we’re still spiritual works-in-progress will be an encouragement to them.
- We can discuss what it would be like to be the various characters in both of these stories. What would we think? What would we feel? What would we say?
- We can examine the master and the father in these two stories and discuss how they are like God. (The master is kind and generous and has every right to distribute his resources as he sees fit. The father is caring and compassionate and rejoices when his lost son returns home.)
- We can discuss how the master and the father interact with each of the other characters in these stories and consider how it’s similar to how God interacts with us. (What undeserved blessings has He poured out on us? How has He treated us when we have humbled ourselves and asked for His forgiveness? How do we know He loves and cares for us?)
These are only suggestions. I encourage you to use them as springboards to get you thinking and discussing the lessons the Lord would have you learn from these passages.
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Images courtesy of:
The Prodigal Son- Rembrandt