A friend from years back penned lyrics that exposed a deeper truth. He wrote, “Everybody wants justice…for somebody else!” When we’re the victimizers, the wrong-doers, and the ones who have committed unacceptable acts, we find ourselves in a position of seeing a situation differently. “But officer, I was in a hurry to pick up my girl from day care. I wasn’t meaning to break the law. I normally drive at regular speed!” “Mom, I just couldn’t resist your cookies! I was just trying to reach them when I knocked the cookies jar down and broke it!” “I’m not a killer! But I just got so angry at what he did, I couldn’t control myself! You’d have done the same thing too if you had experienced what I did!” When we are the ones for whom the gavel falls, we are then not so much seekers of justice as much as we are seekers of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.
A Facebook conversation stimulated my thoughts on the subject, especially as it pertains to forgiveness being meted out to the perpetrators of particularly wicked crimes. We often become cynical and unforgiving when we hear of “death bed repentance” or “jailhouse conversions”. No WAY is that guy going to Heaven!” We say. “How dare that preacher tell us, ‘he gave his life to Jesus, now he’s free?’ Free to go to Heaven? Free of sin? I hope he burns in Hell forever and a day!” Our mercy tolerance can be quite low when the pain hits close to home.
Is it really possible for God to forgive “big time” sinners and sinners who have no opportunity to make things right by giving them the exact same gift of eternal life as those who have “labored long” in the Lord’s vineyard? Consider the Parable of the Laborer in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:16ff).
Jesus tells a story which seems to violate every Human Resource and Fair Practices code ever recorded! In the story, a landowner invites workers throughout the day to labor in his vineyard. Some come first towards the beginning of the day. Others come at midday and still others just before closing time.” When the time comes to give the wage for completed work, the landowner gives everyone, the exact same pay! Stunned, those who labored longer protested. “How could you?” the Landowner responds that the money was his to do with as he pleased and asked if he had not kept the terms of the promises he had made with them. The response quieted the workers, giving them something to think about while leaving us with some critical lessons as well.
The website gracethroughfaith.com has this to say re: the Matthew 20, 1-16 passage:
[This is]a heavenly story put into an earthly perspective, [with] all the characters represent someone or something else. [The] landowner represents the Lord, the workers His followers, and the vineyard, His Kingdom. The pay stands for the rewards of salvation. The work is what His followers do to deserve the reward, and the day is the length of time they’re given to do it, normally their lifespan. This parable wasn’t meant to be a management seminar. It was given to illuminate three critical principles having to do with the Kingdom of Heaven.A personal story might help to further clarify. I have friend from my Jr. High days who committed a series of heinous crimes that gained him infamy. After a couple of years of inner turmoil, he surrendered his life to Christ. He became a truly transformed man, who was the "go to" guy in times of trouble and prevented a number of riots, suicides etc. He had also been sentenced to death. He didn't allow his attorneys to publicly announce his being born-again until after his execution, feeling it might be seen as a ploy for clemency. Though he certainly would have preferred life, he accepted the sentence he earned without protest as a consequence of his sin. He shared his testimony in front of a prison Bible Study for the record a few days before dying. It was published after his sentence was carried out.
First, no matter when in your life you decide to join His Kingdom, you are entitled to all the rights and benefits pertaining thereto the moment you do. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The last ones hired got the same pay as the first.
Second, you have to sign up before the end of the day. (Hebrews. 4:7) No one was hired after the end of the day and as I said, the day represents our lifetime.
Third, if you think you deserve more in the Kingdom because you worked longer or harder or lived a better life than someone else, then you’ve forgotten how you got in. You weren’t saved because of your merit or worthiness, but because of His mercy and grace. Thinking He owes you something extra is a sin that if left unconfessed won’t get you thrown out, (remember every worker is a believer) but it could put a strain on your relationship with the Lord during your life and will certainly diminish your joy at having been accepted into the Kingdom.
His transformation - evident some 8 plus years after his claimed born-again experience - was so profound that the crew who would have normally carried out the sentence asked and received special permission to have another crew carry out the execution because they could not bring themselves to harm him after coming to know him once came to Christ. He was repentant and sought every way he could to demonstrate his understanding of the impact of his sin (he refused a last meal, stating that his victims never had the opportunity to choose their last meals on this earth).
Why do I share this? It's a simple testimony to the transforming power that comes through faith in Jesus' finished work on the Cross which sufficiently paid in full for the sins of the world. Consequences may remain, but forgiveness, freedom and peace are available for murders, liars, adulterers, cheaters, rapist, tax evaders - anyone who recognizes their helpless state and trusts in Jesus' Work. That's the Good News! And because of that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” Praise God for His grace! Relishing His love and mercy until next time…