When Life Isn’t Fair



Read and meditate on Matthew 20:1–16

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. –Philippians 4:11 NIV

Cheryl (not her real name) worked for one company for more than 25 years, faithfully showing up on time and putting in a full day’s work and then some. One of her responsibilities—for which she was not compensated—was to train new hires.

One day she discovered the girl she’d been training, who’d just passed the probation period, made the same hourly wage as Cheryl did. Compensation, she learned, was based not on seniority but on job position.

I never understood the point of the parable Jesus told in today’s reading. It just seemed unfair that those who worked only a few hours received the same pay as those who’d slaved all day under the hot sun.

But when I finally got past what I perceived as unfairness, I gleaned not one, but four lessons.

First, life isn’t fair. Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers then thrown in jail, where he languished for years, on a false accusation. Paul faithfully pursued God’s calling, only to be shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, left for dead, chased out of town more than once, and arrested on false charges (2 Corinthians 11:21–33). If that wasn’t enough, a “thorn in the flesh” (no one knows what it was) plagued him. Even though he prayed about it, God didn’t remove it, instead telling Paul, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).

The second thing I recognized was that we humans are a grumbling lot. The Israelites complained all the way from Egypt to the Promised Land. We’re no different. You know what it’s like to spend time with a grumbler. They’re miserable, so they make everyone around them miserable. Our complaining has an effect not only on our perspective, but also on others. Both Paul (Philippians 2:14) and James (James 5:9) tell us not to grumble or complain.

Instead we are to let everything we say be good and helpful so that our words are an encouragement to those who hear them (Ephesians 4:29). Every morning I pray, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

It helps to have a good perspective, and that is attained by allowing God to transform our minds (Romans 12:2) and think only that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

The third lesson I gleaned from this parable is to stop comparing myself with others, my situation with their situation, my pay with their pay. Instead, I am to be content with what I have (Hebrews 13:5), in whatever circumstances I find myself (Philippians 4:11–13).

Either I believe God is in control of everything that touches me—and has a plan and purpose for it—or I don’t.

And finally, once I got past the unfairness, I saw that this isn’t a parable about fairness at all. It’s about God’s grace. God’s amazing grace.

If He wants to give the deathbed conversion the same heaven as the lifelong servant, He can. It’s His grace to dispense as He chooses, and His home to open to whomever He welcomes.

I still struggle with unfairness, and I will as long as I tread this sphere. But I have the assurance that even though life may be unfair, God never is.

Help me, Lord, not to focus on “fair” but to focus on You. Amen.

© 2017, Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Image in public domain.