taking the words of Jesus seriously

The notorious, belligerent, somewhat anti-social punk rocker Johnny Rotten, at the end of his final live show with his band the Sex Pistols, yelled out to the audience, “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Rotten walked off the stage, left the band, and the Sex Pistols disintegrated not long afterwards.

So, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

We want life to be fair. We want to know, we want a guarantee, that if we keep our end of the bargain, that the other parties are going to keep their end of the bargain.

If we feel we have been cheated, there are all sorts of clearly defined procedures we can follow to register a complaint and have it examined by an official.

A student who believes she has been graded unfairly and in a manner not in keeping with the syllabus grading scheme, can register a complaint with the school and have someone  look into the matter.

A customer who believes he received a less-than-satisfactory product can ask to speak to a manager, or send a complaint to someone in a corporate office, and have the matter looked into.

American citizens who feel a particular law or court ruling is unfair to them can join together and have lawyers argue their case all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Why do we do these things?

Because in all areas of life there are times when, whether or not we actually have, we get the feeling we’ve been cheated.

Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard. About workers who worked all day and expect a full-day’s wage … and they received it.

But there are also workers who got hired later and only worked half the day, and worse, workers who got hired at the end of the day and only worked one hour … and at the end of the day when the money started being distributed, the last ones hired got paid first, and they got a full-day’s pay, then the half-day workers got a full-day’s pay and finally, the all-day workers who – you guessed it – got a full-day’s pay.

The all-day workers, naturally, complained because they felt cheated.

This is what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus says – grace doesn’t always appear fair.

Have you felt resentment toward the grace that has been poured out upon another person obviously less deserving, when you’ve been doing good all along? Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

A single mother finds her way into a local church, and the church takes her and her child in warmly. She volunteers and helps out often around the church and takes part in functions. After a while she is asked to help co-direct the church nursery.

A longtime member of the church, one of the most loyal and hardworking people in the church, complains to the pastor – that woman has no business helping in a leadership role with the children. She’s unmarried. Her life has been a mess. She still doesn’t have it all together; so what if she’s good with the kids? What kind of example is it if the church starts letting just anybody come in and start serving?

The longtime member was feeling more than a bit cheated. Cheated over leadership issues (why hasn’t she been asked to be in a leadership role?), but cheated also because of grace; this single mother had a not-very-polite past, and occasionally a still-not-very-polite-present, and yet grace was being poured out upon her as equally as to the longtime member.

In Jesus’ Kingdom in which a Johnny Rotten is as welcomed and loved as a Bill Gaither, instead of complaining about being cheated, give thanks; for somewhere somebody is complaining that she’s been cheated because you’ve been treated equally to her.

Nevermind the religious nonsense, here’s to God’s cheating grace.

Bert Montgomery is a writer, minister and college lecturer living in Starkville, Mississippi. His new book is Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (2011, Smyth & Helwys).

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About The Author


Bert Montgomery grew up outside of New Orleans, lived in Memphis, and dearly loves the state that connects the two. He has interviewed legendary folksinger Arlo Guthrie, members of the Allman Brothers and Tedeschi Trucks Bands, and even the deceased monk Thomas Merton. Bert has written about everything from prayer to great hymns, from gender identity to board games, from horror movies and classic comedies to Mardi Gras and sports, and a whole lot about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the midst of it all. His book include Of Mice and Ministers, Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza, and Elvis, Willie, Jesus & Me. His day jobs (most writers have day jobs) involve teaching sociology and religion courses at Mississippi State University and also pastoring University Baptist Church, Starkville.

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