Human beings have a keen sense of justice. In fact it is the basis of our entire outlook. We do not take kindly to someone who breaks the rules of common human courtesy. It is built into us – it’s part of our psychological DNA. It is most evident in young children when they insist on fair shares.
Adults expect justice too.
And justice matters because it regulates our conduct and our ability to live together. Those who break the rules of common courtesy or the norms of civilised behaviour are to be sanctioned. We are fundamentally moral creatures with a deep moral sense.
So when we come to the parable Jesus taught in chapter 20 of Matthew’s Gospel account, we are confronted with an affront to the expectations human beings have about what is just and right – a sense that is apparently quite warped according to Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells the story of a land owner who went out and hired men to work in his vineyard for the day [daily contract hire was the norm in those days]. The owner agreed a fair wage with the men – the going rate. The men agreed and went to work for him.
At different times of the day the owner went out to the market place and found other men available to work. So he hired them, too.
At the end of the day, the owner paid off those who had come much later in the day at the same rate of pay as those who had worked all day.
Those who had been hired first, and had borne the heat of the entire day, thought they would now be paid more – because those who had done less hours had been paid the full daily rate . But they were all paid the same wages !
Clearly there was a conflict of moral outlook here. Human beings inevitably see an injustice – or what they perceive to be injustice – very quickly; and they are quick to take offence.
But the owner did nothing wrong. He paid them the agreed daily rate. He did not cheat or deceive anyone. He fulfilled his contract.
the owner chose to be generous with his own money and pay the full day rate to men who had worked only a fraction of the day. He wasn’t cheating anyone, but choosing to be generous to some. After all, the men had needed a day’s work to earn a day’s wages for their families – they would have been short of the income their families really needed, otherwise.
Undoubtedly the owner understood this and chose to have compassion on them and their families.
But those who complained did not wish to see or appreciate the owner’s compassion for others; they only saw and felt a shortcoming created by their own expectations. They had no right or reason to expect more; they simply felt an injustice. Most human beings probably would.
What Jesus does here is to flag up human beings self centred sense of what is right and wrong. He makes us realise that we have one sense of right and wrong, based on our self interest, but God has a different perspective on morality.
And God is not wrong. He treated those who worked all day fairly and justly. But he chose to treat others generously, giving them more than they deserved and giving them what they would need for their families.
It is a very important fact about God’s perspective which we need to grasp. Even the apostle Peter fell foul of interfering or second guessing God’s dealings with his fellows. In chapter 21 of John’s Gospel account and in verses 21 and 22, we see exactly this mindset at work.
Peter queries what is going to happen with John, and then Jesus tells Peter to mind his own business !
Jesus is reinforcing an extremely important point here.
We are very keen to interfere in other people’s lives; to compare our lot to other’s; to justify ourselves in relation to others; to see ourselves as worse off than others; to take slights or feel unjustly treated; to think we are missing out in some way.
But God says to us that our sole concern should be our relationship with him; as Jesus says to Peter:
if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee ? follow thou me ! [John 21 verse 22].
God says that our sole priority and preoccupation must be with what God expects from us – not what others are doing or not doing.
We are to mind our own walk with God – our own obedience and faithfulness – and not be distracted by what others do or don’t do according to the way we think they should behave.
What others do or do not do is between them and God, not us. They are God’s business, not ours.
Our business, indeed our duty, is to be focused on and faithful to Jesus Christ.
This is the will of God, your sanctification the apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians in chapter 4 of his first letter to them.
Looking at others and how well or badly they are doing, is to avoid the issue of the primary and all important duty we have to focus ourselves on what God expects from us: our holiness – our dedication to Him and to His Teaching.
As soon as we look at others and at their situation, we lose sight of the most important requirement in our lives which is this:-
The fundamental priority to live our lives obeying God and becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.
The theological name is SANCTIFICATION – a word conspicuous by its absence from today’s Christian mindset; conspicuous by its absence from the preaching and teaching in so many places which call themselves churches; conspicuous by its absence in the lives of so many professing Christians.
Yet it is a theme which characterises the central teaching of the entire Bible, especially the New Testament.
It is time to make SANCTIFICATION our priority.