The Scandalous Mathematics of Grace

 Matt. 20:15 - "Am I not allowed to do what I wish with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?" - ESV

I couldn't stand mathematics in school.  I was a lit man.  Give me any kind of book to explore and explain and I was content.  Sit me at a desk with a pencil and figures and I felt like my head would explode.  I have since come to appreciate the importance of math.  Doing home projects around the house requires measuring, designing and estimating.  Balancing checkbooks and keeping track of schedules all require the use of numbers.  The first time I came to appreciate math was when I had my first few jobs.  I knew what my pay-rate was and I could keep track of my income based on the hours I worked, or the number of houses I had on my paper route or the pounds of strawberries I picked per hour.

In Matthew 20 Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who hires workers throughout the day to work in his vineyard for an agreed upon amount.  I can imagine being one of those workers ticking off in my head the amount of money I had earned each hour as the hot sun passed overhead.  At the end of the day the landowner chose to pay the men he had hired latest in the day and gave them the same amount he had agreed to pay those who had worked all day.  All of a sudden those who had worked the longest anticipated greater dividends for their labor!  A bonus if you will.  "Surely," they would say to each other, "our work was worth more than those lazy bums!"  Despite the agreement they had originally made, in their minds their work was worth more than those who had showed up for the final hour.  However, their hopes were dashed as the landowner paid them exactly what he had agreed to.

Philip Yancey describes the perspective of the workers when they received their paycheck.  "Jesus' story makes no economic sense, and that was his intent.  He was giving us a parable about grace, which cannot be calculated like a day's wages.  The employer in Jesus' story did not cheat the full-day workers.  No, the full-day workers got what they were promised.  Their discontent arose from the scandalous mathematics of grace.  They could not accept that their employer had the right to do what he wanted with his money when it meant paying scoundrels twelve times what they deserved."

The truth is, when it comes to salvation and a relationship with God none of us deserves it or could ever earn it!  If we received what we deserved we would be eternally separated from our heavenly Father.  However, by his grace we have been reconciled to him through Christ.  It doesn't make sense, it isn't fair, and it's bad economics, but who are we to begrudge the generosity God shows to others when we have personally been the recipients of it as well?  Instead of begrudging it, let's rejoice in the generosity of God's grace and rejoice every time someone responds to the gospel of Jesus, no matter who they are or how long it may have taken them to respond!

Jeremy Dehut

(Originally posted 7/28/09)