Tag Archives: parables

God’s Real Grace: It’s Not Fair!



A surpassingly strange story it is, and enough to make a math or accounting major bite nails. I’m talking about Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

Here’s the story in a nutshell: It’s grape-harvest in Palestine. A vineyard owner goes out early to hire men to work in his vineyard, and he agrees to pay them a denarius, a normal day’s wage. They go to work.

At 9:00 a.m. he finds other men standing around in the marketplace and also hires them, promising to pay them a fair wage. At noon and at 3:00 he does the same thing. Finally, even at 5:00, he finds others standing around, and he hires them also.

When evening comes, he pays the workers, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. To the workers he hired last, he gives a denarius, and so on down through the line. Every worker receives the same pay.

The workers who were hired first begin to complain that it isn’t fair, that the landowner has made the fellows who worked just one hour “equal to” those who have worked all day long in the hot sun. But the landowner replies that he paid exactly what he agreed to pay, and that he has every right to choose to as generous as he wishes with his own money and pay the men hired last as much as those hired first.

Jesus concludes, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Quite a story, and not so much a story about vineyard owners and workers as a story about grace.

You see, where real grace is found, you’ll find our gracious God.

“Religious” law may ask grudgingly, “I know I’m to love my neighbor. Who qualifies? And under its breath it mutters, “I’ll not love anyone I don’t have to.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “Who and how many times do I have to forgive?” and mutters with frosty breath blown out over a cold heart, “It’ll be a snowy day in Perdition when I forgive that one.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “How much do I have to give?” and under its breath mutter, “I’ll not give a penny more.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “How many times do I have to go to church?” and under its breath mutter, “I’ll go not one Sunday more.”

Those are not the kind of questions grace asks because they are not the kind of questions God asks. God loves, forgives, gives, walks with us, because our Father is the God of all grace. Do we deserve his gift? No! It is enough for him that we desperately need it. His loving us will never make black and white, bottom-line accounting sense. Legally, it will never add up or balance. Not even close.

Sadly, where you find real grace, you’ll also find, just as in this parable, grinchy grumblers who aim to get their salvation the old-fashioned way: they want to earn it. They are angered by a God who freely offers salvation to a thief on a cross or a prisoner at Huntsville with a needle in his arm but faith on his lips. That kind of grace just doesn’t add up! That God gives it always angers some.

May we be far too busy praising him and thanking him to ever listen to complaints from those who’ve not yet learned that to get what you deserve is hell.



      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!



Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Pious Pete Declines to Attend the Father’s Party


prodigal son 01

Someone has called Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son “the Gospel within the Gospels” as in it Jesus tells us the story of us all, and the story of God’s love.

You know the story.

A father has two sons. The younger son—immature, rebellious, and headstrong— impetuously demands his inheritance, takes off to a “far country,” and proceeds to heartily party until his dad’s shekels are spent and the party plays out. In the midst of a post-party famine, he finds himself starving and in such bad shape that he’s glad to land a job feeding pigs. One dark day he catches himself envying the porkers who are eating better than he is.

That’s when the prepositions start improving. Once full OF himself, the younger son “comes TO his senses” and realizes he needs to go home TO his father and beg to be taken back not as a son but as a hired hand. Hired hands eat better than pigs.

His father sees him coming while he’s still a long way off, and from then on in the parable, the predominant note is JOY as the father runs to throw his arms around his son, his “lost” son who is found.

Before the now-much-wiser lad can finish his “just make me a hired hand” speech, the father orders up a robe and sandals and a signet ring, and he calls for a feast and the best of parties.
Joy abounds! Except . . .

Except in the heart of the older son who never left home but instead, as he puts it, stayed at home to “slave away” for the father. “And,” pious Pete whines, “you never threw me a party!”

Wonder why! This sad-sack is one of those folks who can put a damper on any party and lower the temperature in any room just by showing up.

The guy probably has some good qualities, but he’s the sort that makes you wonder, “Ya know, if heaven’s full of folks like him, . . .” Don’t worry. It’s not.

I admit it: I don’t like him, not least because all too often, I’m afraid I look way too much like him. He’s long on the kind of “virtues” that give the term a bad name, and I suspect he’s a bit short on vices. Vices are bad in many ways, but they do have the worthwhile effect of reminding us that we’re human.

Good Puritans and genuinely good human beings are not, thank the Lord, the same cats.

The young son? Him, I like. Once he’s come to his senses. At one time, yes, he had a mistaken view of real fun and real life. Early on, he had a warped view of joy and looked for it in all the wrong ways and places.

But at least he was looking for it. At least he knew life was something to be loved. Now he knows why. Now he knows where love and life come from: his father. Now he smiles more, laughs more, and drinks more deeply from real joy. He’s found the real party, and his father is the one throwing it!

Henri Nouwen is right when he says that it’s a lot harder to come home when you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the good son, and you’ve never left.

The younger son made lots of mistakes. The older son is living a mistake. And he’s missing the party.


      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!


Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

%d bloggers like this: