Today's gospel tells of the landowner who hired laborers for his vineyard. In the early morning, the landowner agrees to hire people to work all day for the daily wage. Throughout the day, he continues to hire more people, even in the final hours of the workday. When the sun has set and they all line up to be paid, the ones who have only toiled briefly in the fields are paid for a whole day's wage. The ones who have been there since early morning are paid the exact same amount. "Unfair!" the exhausted all-day workers grumble. "We spent the whole day in the hot sun and you have given these latecomers the same money!"
This is where I start to get uncomfortable as I realize that all too often, I am on the side of the all-day workers, complaining that it's not fair. (I would also be the righteous older brother in the Prodigal Son story, standing back in judgment, unwilling to welcome back his n'er-do-well brother, whining, "It's not fair!")
Some days I feel like the Grinch of the childhood story, the one with a heart that was two sizes too small. I mutter to myself that the ones who didn't get hired all day probably slept in, hung back in the shade when the early hiring was being done, goofing off. I can feel my heart tightening as I study the situation. I want to work hard in the way I see it, to assess fairness through my own perspective. Sometimes I am ungenerous and there is no room in my Grinch heart for exceptions or for seeing people through any perspective but my own narrow one.
Jesus looks at it differently. He shrugs at the the time sheet and looks at each worker with love. "What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?" Yes, Jesus, I am! Your generosity threatens me and challenges me to be more generous and to move beyond myself.
But if I let it soak into my heart, today's gospel moves me to realize that I need to stop seeing people as "One of Them" and see them as "One of Us," as people who are loved by Jesus as much as I am. I need to stop imagining that I am earning Jesus' love and to understand that it is lavished on me freely and without being deserved.
It is here in this humble place of standing before Jesus, so aware of my own faults, that I realize Jesus is throwing his arms around me and holding me close as he hands me a full day's wage, even though I spent most of the day hanging back in the shade, complaining that he wasn't fair.
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