All is a gift
Updated: Nov 4
You mean to tell me, if I work all day in the hot sun, someone else can come along, work for just an hour or so, and get paid the same wage? How is that fair?
The problem with the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is, not that we don't understand. The problem is we don't like it. This is a hard parable to hear. It is very disturbing and if it turns our world upside down, it is supposed to.
Maybe we should just start with Isaiah. "...turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." God lets us know, his ways are not our ways. His ways are mysterious. St. Augustine once said, "If you think you understand, then that is not God." God is beyond our understanding. Aquinas said, "We can only know what God is not, not what he is." So, if you think you understand, be careful, that is the first sign that you are in for trouble. It leads to idolatry, making something that is not God into God. How much trouble have we gotten into doing exactly what God wants us to do? So, the first thing we have to do is admit to ourselves that we don't understand. We don't have the big picture.
For those of you who have been around little kids, tell me if any of this sounds familiar: "Go to bed." "That's not fair." "Clean your room." "That's not fair." Your grounded." "That's not fair." A child sees from their own perspective which is most often selfish. A parent sees a bigger picture. Multiply that by infinity and that will be God’s judgment compared to ours.
What happens if you give one child something and not the other or if you give something of greater value to one and not the other? "That's not fair! You love him more than me!" Am I right? As a parent, you always have to be conscious not to seem to play favorites. But what happens if, for example, one of our kids is struggling in math. You spend extra time with them helping them with their math homework. The other children may get jealous, but they don't understand. You are meeting the needs of your child.
With that in mind, let's look at the parable of The Workers in the Vineyard, although, it might be better to call this parable The Generous Landlord. We tend to identify with the workers who were hired first. It doesn't seem fair for some Johnny come lately to get the same as us. We are like kids who say, "It's not fair!" Those other workers must be lazy. They slept in, probably out partying all night. Not one of us wouldn’t think we deserve more. It's our sense of entitlement. Some people seem to have it all while I have to struggle just to get by. It’s not fair. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. It’s not fair. You don’t get that bonus or raise and we are offended because we think we deserve it. Why should I suffer and not my neighbor? The wicked should be punished. Those people over there, they are unworthy. We decide. How many times have we said God is not fair? If I were God, I would do it different.
The problem with all this is, the workers were given the agreed upon wage. The landowner did not cheat them at all. But we have a reward since of justice even when it comes to God. If I do what God says I will be rewarded. If I follow the commandments, I will win favor with God. If I do all the right things, I will go to heaven, not that one. We want a reward for going to Mass. That is childish. We should go because we want to. We should follow God's commandments and be faithful to God out of love. The work itself is its own reward. We should be happy we have the opportunity to work all day for the Lord but we’re too busy counting and keeping score.
Now, what if we were to identify with the workers who were hired last? We would be feeling different I bet? It could be, instead of being lazy and sleeping in, they had to stay home and take care of a sick family member. Maybe they were older and no one would hire them. Consider how they felt out in hot sun all day waiting to be hired, worrying how they would feed their family. They got a great deal and I am sure were very happy. Like the child who needed extra help, are we to ignore those who need a little help, should we cast them aside as unworthy?
You see, at the end of the day, everyone got what he needed, a day’s wage. Everyone will now be able to provide for their family. The landowner acted out of a higher sense of justice. He knows how to allocate his gifts. We should have attitude of gratitude, not resentment. Everyone gets enough.
Who is deserving of God's love? We are unworthy of it and get it anyway. That is divine mercy. It breaks down our counting and keeping score. Don’t presume you are owed anything. A day laborer totally depends on receiving daily bread. Expectation leads to resentment. If you don’t get what you think you deserve, resentment sets in. Stop expecting. We are dependent on God. Every moment we get, is a gift from God. This is the whole idea behind a spirit of poverty. Everything is a gift. We are all beggars before God. Our prayer should be "thank you!"
When you know everything is a gift and you don’t deserve anything, you stop counting and saying to yourself I deserve; I have a right to. Jesus says don’t even go there. God is generous as God is with whomever God wants. God's message is, I will love everyone and forgive everyone. If you don’t know how to love, you count and you decide who deserves and who has a right to this or that. God's message is love all unconditionally because in my Kingdom there is enough for everyone and, in the end, all get what they need.
Forget about the merit system, forget about keeping score, forget about who is in and who is out, forget about who deserves what. We want to earn our salvation and prove ourselves superior, but God is generous to all, his grace is a gift. We should be thankful. Don’t worry about what is fair. Don’t ask why, but WHY, in awe, as in, how can God be so generous?
We all need to ask ourselves, how do I love? Is it quid pro quo, tit for tat? Do you love only to the extent that you get something out of it? Or, is your love like God’s love, generous and unconditional?