God’s Bad Math

I was never good at math. My P.E. marks were top notch, I excelled at recess and lunch, but after that my marks went downhill and hit rock bottom in math class. I came home from school one day and said to my Mom, “My math teacher is crazy.” “Why do you say that?” Mom asked. I said, “Because yesterday she told us that five is four plus one; today she is telling us that five is three plus two.”


In grade 10, my math teacher Winston Tilsey called me into his office and pointed down at my assignment. “You got 72%, Callaway,” he said. “Either you cheated or it was a miracle.” Well, it was a miracle. Honest. There is no other explanation. 72% in math for me was a miracle on the level of the parting of the Red Sea.


I’m comforted to read the story of Jesus and discover that He wasn’t good at math either. In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who went out early and hired workers to work in his vineyard for one denarius, the accepted wage at the time. But every few hours he hired more to join the crew already at work. At quitting time the boss paid those who only worked an hour one denarius as well. A pretty good haul. The other workers must have started doing the math. “I worked 12 hours. I’ll get, let’s see. Carry the four. Wow. 12 denarius. We’re gonna eat steak for a month.” But as the boss made his way down the line, he gave each the same wage. The guys who worked all day groused and griped.


Well, maybe this story has nothing to do with math at all. Maybe it’s all about grace. Philip Yancey says, “The more I reflect on Jesus’ parables proclaiming grace, the more tempted I am to apply the word ‘atrocious’ to describe the mathematics of the gospel. I believe Jesus gave us these stories to call us to step completely outside our tit-for-tat world of ungrace and enter into God’s realm of infinite grace…I hear a loud whisper from the gospel that I did not get what I deserved…I deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance. Instead, I got a banquet spread for me.”


Because of grace, we stand on level ground at the foot of the cross. There is an ocean of grace available for each of us, whether we arrived early or late, and a Saviour who will welcome us home with a smile and a “well done.” Will you accept His offer? Today, let’s give thanks for God’s outrageous math, and His amazing grace.

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Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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