March 1 – Not Fair

March 1 – Not Fair

Not Fair – a sermon on Matthew 20:1-16

It’s another famous line from the end of another famous parable this morning. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

How did we end up with such a radical overturning of expectations, it just doesn’t seem fair that the last would be first and the first last.

Only in the kingdom of heaven…

But we really shouldn’t be too surprised. For if we’ve been paying attention to what Jesus has been saying all along it’s the same thing he’s been preaching his entire life.

Remember that great sermon on the hill that started off with all those blessings? It wasn’t the people who we’d expect to be at the front of the line. Yet they…the peacemakers, and meek, the merciful and those who are persecuted are all standing at the front of the line.

Sometimes all we can say is just, “Not Fair!”

But even in this “not fairness,” there is a lesson to be learned.

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” Jesus starts off again on one of his tales.

“The kingdom of heaven is like…”

“Heaven is like…”


There’s that magical word that this all hinges on.

Like a marketplace with unjust pay practices…

It seems bizarre doesn’t it? That this strange story of people trying to find work points us towards learning something about the kingdom of heaven. Or maybe it teaches us a couple things…

Let’s stay here in the marketplace for a while. Maybe you can imagine a mid 40’s age man there, in the early hours of the morning, lining up for work, rubbing shoulders with some scruffy looking characters, bumping elbows with people twice are size. That’s why he never got hired…not in the early morning, not at noon, and not in the mid afternoon, even though he counted on getting hired to put food on his family’s table. It wasn’t until early evening, just before they were to turn in for the day that he got hired. Late in the day this man goes and works as hard as he can for just a short bit of time.

And to his surprise he gets paid the same amount as those who had been working all day long. “Not fair!” those early morning workers cry. And it isn’t.

It is still quite unfair in most of the marketplace as women make less than men doing the same work. Even in church world many women are paid less than men for the same service.

Classic commentators tell us that this parable in all of its unfairness is about the extravagant generosity of the vineyard owner, not about who worked the longest and how much they made.

Yet it still seems that hearing this parable just makes us want to shout, “Not fair!”

In the tv show Louie, comedian Louis CK gets questioned by his daughter after someone gets a piece of food, a mango popsicle – I think, and she does not…

“Why does she get one, and not me?” she asks, “It’s not fair.”

Louis answers, “You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life so, you must learn that now, okay?”

And then he stoops down so he’s eye to eye with her and continues, “Listen. The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have… as much as them.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” Jesus starts off again on one of his tales.

“The kingdom of heaven is like…”

“Heaven is like…”


And in that “…like…” we learn as much about how our world is still in need of some radical transformation of love and justice, because there are times when it seems as if we are as far away from that kingdom of heaven as we could be.

And that’s when it’s helpful to remember that the kingdom of heaven is indeed like that vineyard. Where the owner is far more gracious and extravagant then we could ever imagine.

For God’s love and mercy is given to those who have been serving their entire life long, doing the hard work of leading a church, of feeding the hungry, of caring for children.

And God’s love and mercy is given to those who are just now learning how their gifts for ministry might serve those most in need.

In this vineyard story not only do we hear a parable of marketplace economics being turned on their head. But we hear our own salvation story.

In the kingdom of heaven God is quick to hand out far more than what we might think of as fair. And sometimes it makes us want to scream, because things here far from that kingdom seem so unfair. And that might be the greatest – most challenging – news for us to hear during this Lenten journey towards the cross.

That no matter how much energy we put into serving others, how long we fast, or how much we pray, God’s grace and mercy is still constant – an abundant overflowing. Which does not give us permission to not engage in the challenging work of journeying together toward Jerusalem. But it does give us the confidence that our journey will not be for nothing.

That at the end of the road we will be greeted by God who will still say, well done my good and faithful servant, and shower us with grace.