Aaron’s Birthday

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…”

Joel 2:25

Today we, as a family, celebrate my brother’s birthday. Aaron died in a sudden and tragic car accident back in August. It was out of the blue. It was unexpected. He was only 47 years old. He left behind a wife and three kids that are in college. One of the dominant feelings about his death was not just grief but the pervasive sense of it being unfair.

Even as a little kid I had a sense that things needed to be fair. I was given a deep sense of justice by the Lord, which reflects His own desire to bring justice into the world. This deep sense of justice would eventually lead me to help start an anti-trafficking organization. But it also causes the lack of fairness in the world to sting a little more.

It’s not fair that Aaron’s kids don’t get to talk to him or see him anymore. It’s not fair that his wife has to wake up every day without him next to her. It’s not fair that his two girls won’t get to walk down the wedding aisle with him at their side. It’s not fair that my parents don’t get to have their oldest child swing by their house just to chat. It’s not fair that my sister and I don’t get to joke with him and laugh with him and ask for his help with stuff around the house. It’s not fair that my kids lost their fun-loving uncle and all the memories they would have made with him as they grew up. It’s not fair that my wife lost her favorite Stephenson. Aaron was everyone’s favorite. There is a sense of deep injustice about his death.

And the reality of this world is that injustice is rampant. It’s everywhere you turn. We cannot be surprised by it because it is everywhere. No one makes it through this life without a story of injustice and suffering. No one. Suffering and grief don’t make us special; they make us normal. Sin has broken this world, and the enemy as exacerbated injustice as much as he is able.

So what do we do? What do we do when a life has been stolen from us? What do we do when years of memories and moments have been taken away without any recourse? What do we do in the face of an injustice like this?

What we are choosing to do is celebrate Aaron’s life and believe in the God who brings redemption to all things. We trust in God who promises to repay us for the years the locusts have eaten. We lean into the God who brings beauty from ashes, who brings life out of death. In the face of this injustice, we remember that God said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay“(Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35). This is the nature and character of the God we serve. So we leave it to Him to do just that. And, in the meantime, we receive His comfort as we grieve:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We miss you brother!

Unfair

“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. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘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.’

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

Matthew 20:8-15

In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus is trying to teach us about what the Kingdom of God is like. He’s trying to show us a different understanding of justice, grace and mercy. If Jesus were to stand up and tell this story today, He would surely offend our American sense of justice and righteous indignation.

This is the scandal of grace. The principles of God’s grace and generosity do not operate on principles of justice. Jesus was trying to reorient the people’s definition of “fairness” toward a gospel of grace rather than a gospel of justice.

God desires to be generous with His grace. Those who get saved at the final moments of their life will inherit eternal life just as those who have been faithful followers of Jesus their whole life. We see this with the criminal on the cross who was hanging next to Jesus (Luke 23:42-43). We see this with the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God loves to be generous with His grace.

Jesus makes it clear that God is not being “unfair”(verse 13). Everyone got what they agreed to. If we read “injustice” into this parable then we have a different definition of justice than God, and it is we who need to adjust, not Him. The real problem that this parable exposes is not God’s sense of grace or justice, but our sense of righteous indignation.

When you read this parable, who did you identify with? Were you celebrating God’s grace and mercy with the workers who got hired in the last hour of the day and got a full day’s wage? Or were you identifying with the workers who had worked all day and got the same thing as the guy who only worked an hour?

This parable exposes our heart. Who do we think we are? Are we the one who “earned more” and should have gotten more? Or are we the one who has graciously been saved by unmerited mercy and the extreme generosity of God?

Let me give you a hint. We ALL are the workers who only worked an hour. This parable was designed to expose the unhealthy sense of entitlement that rises up in us all. We like to call it “justice” but this parable exposes it for what it is–self-righteousness.

Let this parable sit with you. Let it bother you. And then let it return you to gratitude for the extreme grace the Father has show us through His Son Jesus.