Summary: God’s grace is a free gift that is available to all of us. It is a free gift that we receive but it isn’t what we deserve. It is about mercy, not fairness. And, it is for the last as well as the first. Thankfully, what we can all say is, It’s about gr
A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II, was called by many New Yorkers “the Little Flower” because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New Your City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward in the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, effused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” The man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or den days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his hat saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
Here is my question for you. Did the elderly lady in the story get what she deserved? Clearly the answer is, of course not. She had stolen a loaf of bread. Yes, she may have had good reason, but stealing is stealing and regardless of the reason, punishment would seem to be the order of the day.
What we see in the story is called grace. Grace is when one in superior power shows kindness or mercy to one in a lesser position. Mayor LaGuardia, rather than demanding punishment of the woman herself, paid the fine and then further helped her cause with the collection of the fifty-cent fines and gave them to her. It was more than she deserved. It was grace.
That is what our lesson this morning is all about too. Today we conclude our series “Principles from Parables” as we look at the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. In this parable Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner that went out and hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired early in the day, telling them that he would pay them the usual daily wage. He went back at various times of the day and found more workers waiting to be hired. Each time he hired those that were there, telling them that he would pay them what was right. We are not told why some had not found work or if they had shown up at the marketplace late or any other details.
At the end of the day came to pay the workers. He began with the ones most recently hired and he paid them the usual daily wage. That excited the ones who had been there all day. They thought that surely if he paid the late ones that much he obviously would pay them even more for all their hard work. Their excitement was short lived. In fact, they were pretty upset when they got the same pay working all day as what people got who only worked an hour.
When the landowner heard them grumbling, he tried to explain that he wasn’t unfair at all. He gave them what they had agreed upon, but it was his money and he could be generous if that is what he chose to do. We aren’t told how the workers responded to that.
It is very apparent that the landowner didn’t live in our time. It also would seem that the landowner didn’t know much about business. Next time he went out to hire help none would probably go until the last hour of the day.