Grace Isn’t Fair

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Jonah 3:10-4:11; St. Matthew 20:1-16

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unfairly pours out divine grace upon us. Amen.

“Life isn’t fair.”

Someone has probably said that to you – at least once – at some point during your life. Maybe a parent, a teacher, a coworker. It’s practically a cliché at this point; as someone complains about the injustices of the world, be they minor or major, to tell them, “Life’s not fair.” As if to say, “Welcome to the club, bub,” or “Deal with it,” and end the conversation there.

How unfair the Gospel may seem sometimes.

Imagine being the prodigal son’s older brother – your ne’er-do-well idiot sibling runs off with his share of the inheritance, squanders it with God-only-knows what sort of behavior – all of it! – and comes back smelling like a stable…only to be greeted with a ring, a robe, and the fatted calf? How’s that fair?

Or if you’re Jonah, sitting outside Nineveh, expecting the Lord to finally smite that wicked city like Gomorrah. But they repented at the last minute, and now they just…get a reprieve? Jonah storms off, plops down in the shade, and pouts while waiting for the destruction he thinks they deserve. The Lord – who, at this point, has already told Jonah that nothing will happen to the city – provides a large bush in order that Jonah might enjoy some shade, but then the next day, takes it away. And Jonah – having already been spared from the sea monster himself – tells God he’s “angry enough to die.”

Or suppose you’re one of the workers in the vineyard who spent all day in the field, swearing under the hot sun. You line up to get your money next to some late comers, and then you get the same amount? As if to say your day’s work is only worth as much as the last hour of labor done by these bums?


Grace isn’t fair. That’s the point. It’s not based on the fruits of our labor, our years spent devoted to the Church, the earnestness of our Lenten fasting, how well we sing hymns, how many theology books we have on our shelves, or anything else within our control. If it were based on what we earned or deserved, it wouldn’t be grace. If our salvation depended upon our own merit, there would be no hope because, even at our best, we are still sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God.

But blessed be the name of the Lord! For in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – based on his merit, not ours – we are assured of our salvation from sin and death.

And because of God’s unfair, radical, abundant grace, because we have mercifully been assured of live everlasting – we are set free to confront the unfair injustices of this present age. Life in this fallen and rebellious world isn’t fair – but God has given us the grace to go even to Nineveh, preaching repentance and the coming Kingdom where the last shall be first.


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