Mad About Mercy

Have you ever been frustrated by God’s goodness?

We generally think about being frustrating by life’s struggles and injustices, but the Bible is full of stories of people who were frustrated by God’s goodness to people they considered undeserving.

Jonah was so distraught over God’s mercy to the people of Nineveh he became suicidal.  The Pharisees and religious scribes were quite offended by Jesus’ habit of befriending tax collectors and prostitutes. Even Jesus’ own disciples could not understand why he would spend time talking to a Samaritan woman.

Jesus addresses our frustration with God’s goodness directly in his parable of The Workers in the Vineyard found in Matthew 20:1-16.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (NIV)

Children often become fixated on fairness. Any brother or sister who sees their sibling get a treat wants one for themselves. Parents, on the other hand, remain concerned about fairness, however, they are even more concerned with making sure each child gets what they most need.

God is like a good parent, more concerned about getting His children what they need than getting them all exactly the same things. Our spiritual growth from childishness to a mature faith can be measured by the extent to which we learn to celebrate rather than begrudge God’s goodness to the undeserving.

I’ve looked inside my own heart enough to know that the moment I quit celebrating God’s goodness to the undeserving is the same moment I quit celebrating God’s goodness to me.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says God makes the rain to fall on the righteous on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). This was hard for people to accept back then and it is still hard for people today.  So, to help you out, I’ve developed a simple test to help you know whether God’s still abides by His “free rain for all” policy. The next time we have a big rain, drive over to my house and see if the yard is still dry as a bone. If it is dry, then you can rest assured that God no longer sends rain on the unrighteous and you are free to wish ill on those who fail to measure up. On the other hand, assuming my yard is just as wet as everyone else’s, you might want to learn to celebrate God’s goodness to the undeserving because until you do so you will never be able to fully celebrate God’s goodness to you.

Prayer: God help me to celebrate your goodness to the righteous and the unrighteous. Teach me to care more about everyone getting what they need than what they deserve. Thank you for blessing me more abundantly than I could never deserve. Amen.