When Life is Tough, Grace is Enough

I have been writing a lot about where our hope truly lies and that we need to be a positive light in a negative world. Last week Joni and I were meeting with our wonderful church small group from Waterbrook Bible Fellowship. The study was from John and we each read a verse from the passage. Here is my verse and I am not making this up.

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. (John 6:43)

I laughed and told the group this might become my new life verse for this very negative cultural season. The verse follows a section where Jesus talks about how He is the bread of life and has come from Heaven. This was just too much for the locals who knew Him as the kid raised by Mary and Joseph down at the carpenter shop. But the message is timeless. I need to stop grumbling and start living out of who God says I am as His child. Maybe that is why God calls me His child because I sure can be childish at times.

The grumbling verse reminded me of one of my favorite grace parables. A vineyard owner hired some workers at 9 in the morning to help bring in the harvest. Jesus continues the story.

“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard. (Matthew 20:6-7)

So far the story is nice. A kind and compassionate man wants to help some poor folks who had no work. They could work an hour and at least get a tiny bit for their effort. But Jesus is about to turn the “fairness” doctrine over like a table in the Temple.

 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:8-16, NLT)

Can’t you just see it? The grumbling of the sweaty and exhausted all day workers decrying that they had been treated unfairly yet the truth is they got exactly the wage they agreed upon. I wondered about the reaction of the latecomers. Did they gloat about their luck? I don’t think so. I imagine they wept at the kindness of an unmerited gift given by a kind man. At 4 pm they faced the prospect of going home with nothing to provide for their family but two hours later they had been given, not earned, a full days wage! Think of the joy as the men went home and excitedly told about this amazing generosity. The family likely gathered around and touched the denarius like a sacred gift from Heaven. What a contrast of joy from a once forgotten group of men juxtaposed against the grumbling of the people who had done the “right” thing and expected to be treated better. What a picture of grace! We don’t earn grace by a full day or one hour effort. Grace is a gift. Grace is an unearned gift of love to be savored, appreciated and treasured.  Brennan Manning wrote about the incomprehensibility of grace to the American mindset.

My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…

Indeed. Grace is enough when I simple relax and receive this amazing gift.