“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (persons) are created equal.”
These words from our Declaration of Independence have been called “immortal,” and they are among the best known words in the English language.
Equality is among our highest ideals, and we speak reverentially of it, but do we really desire it?
Consider the parable Jesus told of workers in a vineyard. Some were hired at the beginning of the work day and had agreed with the owner on a proper day’s wage. Some are hired later in the day and were told by the owner that he would pay whatever is right. Finally, some were hired so late in the day they worked only one hour.
At the end of the day, when it was time to pay the workers, the owner began with those hired last and paid them, surprisingly, an entire day’s wage.
When those hired first observed such generosity, they assumed they would receive much more, but they also received the same day’s wage.
They complained, “Those hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have born the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
Note their objection, “You have made them equal to us.”
They were offended by equality, and so are we!
Equality is when you are treated the same as everyone else, regardless of how long or how hard you have worked.
That violates our sense fairness, but was the owner unfair?
He did no wrong to those hired first. He gave them what they had requested and he gave to others far more than they deserved.
The parable illustrates the incredible generosity of God, who gives graciously to all, not only what he has promised but beyond all expectation, to show that our standing before God depends not on what we have done but on what he has given.
At the end of the day, God treats all of us the same, regardless of how long or how hard we have worked.
And that offends us, because we really don’t want equality. We want hierarchy.
It is our nature to compare ourselves with others by keeping an unwritten record of what we have done versus what they have done or failed to do.
That is bookkeeping — when we compare ourselves with others and assume that God still owes us something.
We pay lip service to equality, but deep within each of us lives the unholy presumption that I am somehow more equal, more deserving, than my neighbor.
That is not faith in God; that is unbelief.
But God is better than that.
He gives liberally to all, more than we could ever earn or deserve, not resulting from anything we do but from what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ.
“Grace” might be described as an acronym for “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”
In other words, your standing before God depends not on what you have done, but on what Christ has done for you.
That may be offensive to all bookkeepers, but it is equality before God, who is no respecter of persons and who shows no partiality.
That is grace, which makes no distinctions among us and which ignores every distinction we make among ourselves.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Columbus, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.