A lesson in grace from a sermon and prision visit

Although I cannot remember the exact date, it is a day I will never forget.  On a warm day in fall, a sermon was preached on the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20 verses 1- 16) that set me off on a journey that led me to a deeper understanding of God’s grace, and my life hasn’t been the same ever since.  

In the parable, all of the workers were paid a full day’s wage regardless of the amount of time they worked or the effort they put in.  Like the workers who laboured the full day, it didn’t seem fair to me that they were paid the same wage as the workers who put in less time and effort.  

But what really got my hackles up was the underlying message of the parable: the same God who blesses those who faithfully love, serve and obey Him, also blesses those who fall short in their love, service and obedience to Him.  The difficult part for me was accepting that it is God’s prerogative to choose how and who He will bless, including those who are not making a diligent effort to serve him or to obey His teachings.  As the preacher pointed out, the only explanation for the things that don’t seem to be fair, is that God’s grace is indiscriminate.  It is not up to those of us who consider ourselves to be good, practising Christians to question how and why God blesses those who are not. Grace is undeserved kindness and favour from God, freely given to people who do nothing to earn it.  

On the day when the sermon was preached, I did believe and still do believe with all my heart that it is through God’s grace we are saved, and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But the parable of the workers in the vineyard got me thinking more about my own beliefs about what is fair.  In fact the sermon challenged my understanding of God’s blessings to those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), do His work (Hebrews 6:10) and are obedient to His Word (Psalm 111:10).

 A few weeks later, I was invited to attend a Bible study in a prison.  The text of the Bible study was Isaiah 55, the invitation to those who are spiritually thirsty to come to God because His way is the better option.  I paid particular attention to the comments the inmates made on verses 6 to 9.   

 6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

 Some of the inmates shared that there is no mention of punishment or condemnation in God’s invitation to us to come to Him in verse 7.  God offers pardon and mercy to those who respond to His invitation.  They also shared that although the criminal justice system has condemned them, they have received God’s pardon and mercy.  They spoke of how they receive God’s grace and blessings every day in many ways, even in as dismal a place as a prison.  I was struck by their admission that when an error is made, corrective action has to be taken.  In their case, they committed crimes that are punished by human law.  They also shared that for all human sin, Jesus Christ took the punishment through death on the cross and that by God’s grace we can all receive God’s blessings of fellowship with Him and eternal life.

At that point, the sermon on the parable of the workers in the vineyard really hit home – as if a light had been turned on and my understanding of God’s grace was changed forever.  I now understand that God’s ways or principles go way beyond human principles of justice, peace and fairness that are predicated on compromise, compensation and negotiation.  God’s grace is given freely and overrides our own beliefs about what is fair.  Many of us good, Bible-obeying Christians need to accept that and not try to figure it out. 

What’s more, is that my understanding of God’s grace came full circle, in a most unlikely place – a prison – from an unlikely source – inmates who the society has labeled ‘incorrigible,’ and ‘evil,’ but on whom God has bestowed His grace, in the same way He has bestowed grace on me.

I have looked back on past events in my life and realized that God has lavishly bestowed His grace on me.  Although I have not committed a crime punishable by law, I now realize that God sees the inmates in the same way as he sees me and in fact, all people who have not ended up on the wrong side of human law.  All of us are sinners in need of His grace and mercy.  By accepting the saving act of Jesus’ death, we are now people with the potential to do what is good and right by the grace of God and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.  

I agree that we need to have laws and a correctional system to ensure that we all live in a just and safe society and that criminals should be incarcerated and rehabilitated.  I am also quite sure that God is a just and fair God, and He does not tolerate sin.  But, it is His desire is for all of us to know Him and it is His grace that draws us to Him, wherever we are and whoever we are. 

Armed with my understanding of God’s grace, I’m now committed to be a channel of God’s grace – quick to forgive, less critical of others’ shortcomings, not keeping a record of ‘wrong’ and ‘unfair’ actions and to nurture the goodness of God that is in each and every human being I meet.

Bringing God’s blessings – Unlikely sources & likely barriers

Do you consider yourself to be too socially insignificant or incapable of acting for God to help other people?  

If that’s the case, I want to remind you that you are the child of the Supreme God, Creator and King of the universe.  That alone tells you how important you are.  God chooses you, yes you, to be a channel of His power and grace to enable you to do great things in this world.  Do not ever think of yourself as being less than anyone.  The only hands God has, are yours!

In 2 Kings 5, the story is told of Naaman who was healed of leprosy through the intervention of his wife’s slave girl.  Naaman was General of the Army under the King of Aram. He was important to his master, who held him in the highest esteem because it was by him that God had given victory to Aram: a truly great man, but afflicted with a grievous skin disease (leprosy). It so happened that Aram, on one of its raiding expeditions against Israel, captured a young girl who became a maid to Naaman’s wife. One day she said to her mistress, “Oh, if only my master could meet the prophet of Samaria, he would be healed of his skin disease.” (The Message)


  • We’re all vulnerable and need God – regardless of our social standing

Although Naaman is respected by many, including the King, who is his boss, he has leprosy – a disease that relegates people in Biblical times to ‘outcast’ status.  In spite of Naaman’s social status, his illness in the form of leprosy is a reminder that regardless of our station in life, human beings are all vulnerable and flawed in some way, and in need of divine intervention.

  • We can be used by God to be the solution – solutions can come from unlikely sources

The proposed way in which Naaman can be healed comes from an unlikely and seemingly ‘weak’ source – an enslaved Israelite girl who was captured by Naaman’s army and is assigned to serve Naaman’s wife.

  • Love leads us to serve God and others – true love motivates us to act in faith, regardless of our situation

We are led to believe that the slave girl doesn’t hate those who captured her. Driven by a courageous faith in God, she seeks a way for God to be glorified in her oppressive situation. By declaring that Naaman can be healed through a prophet in Samaria in the land of Israel, she offers the possibility for the oppressor and the oppressed to worship and serve the same God.

Are you deterred from bringing God’s blessing and doing his work because of material things, social and psychological barriers? 

Verses 5 – 7 show how several factors come into play and threaten the flow of God’s blessing to Naaman.

Naaman went straight to his master and reported what the girl from Israel had said. “Well then, go,” said the king of Aram. “And I’ll send a letter of introduction to the king of Israel.”  So he went off, taking with him about 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothes. Naaman delivered the letter to the king of Israel. The letter read, “When you get this letter, you’ll know that I’ve personally sent my servant Naaman to you; heal him of his skin disease.”  When the king of Israel read the letter, he was terribly upset, ripping his robe to pieces. He said, “Am I a god with the power to bring death or life that I get orders to heal this man from his disease? What’s going on here? That king’s trying to pick a fight, that’s what!” (The Message)


  • Political correctness and social rules of communication can hinder the delivery of God’s Word.

God’s inspired message to the young slave girl about how Naaman could be healed is first spoken by the slave to her mistress who is Naaman’s wife. Naaman’s wife then speaks to Naaman, who then speaks to his boss, the King of Syria. The King of Syria then writes a letter to the King of Israel – the country where the healing prophet resides. We note that in the letter, Naaman’s king requests not the prophet, but the King of Israel, to heal Naaman. The expected healing by divine intervention of the prophet as told by the slave girl is therefore lost in the maze of ‘respectful rules of communication’, social ranks and political correctness.

  • Material things appeal to the physical senses and detract from spiritual discernment.

In exchange for Naaman’s healing is the offer of material gifts of significant value: 10 talents of silver, 6,000 shekels of gold and 10 changes of clothes. We learn that openness to the grace and healing blessing of God can be marred by the power and influence of material things that entice and induce the physical senses.

  • The on-going psychological effect of sin and oppression can hinder the flow of God’s blessing

The King of Israel reacts with suspicion and outrage to the King of Syria’s letter and Naaman’s presence in his court. How could the king and captain of the dominant nation of Syria that plundered Israel now turn to Israel for help? The King of Israel is suspicious, outraged and anguished. He tears his clothes – an act declaring his grief and mourning as he perceives that the leaders of the oppressive nation of Syria are again attempting to assert their power over his nation, again. The King of Israel’s reaction shows us how military and political oppression by one nation and race dominating another not only cause suspicion, hostility and poor communication among nations, but it also has adverse psychological effects on the people of the oppressed nation or race.

Resolve today to bring glory to God by being a blessing to others, regardless of social and psychological barriers that may stand in the way!

Leave a comment.  Visit my website www.camilleisaacsmorell.com