The Rev. Linda Taupier – September 20, 2020
Do you ever wonder about fairness? Life doesn’t always seem fair and sometimes it seems so unfair we just can’t wrap our heads around it. Some wonder why God ‘let this happen’. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt something unfair and I’ve come out on the side of those 1st workers. Was I looking for fairness or was I looking to feel and look better? If we work longer, harder than others shouldn’t we be rewarded for that? We have our preconceived ideas of fairness based on our life experiences and what we’ve been taught.
Secular standards came into the Christian Church as ways to ‘earn’ heavenly rewards for centuries prior to Vatican ll. Have you heard the saying you’ll get a brick in heaven? Not sure why anyone would need a brick in heaven but that’s not the point of the saying. The thought was that, like the Pharisees believed, if you went to Mass every Sunday, even better every day, fasted, prayed, did spiritual reading, gave up meat on Fridays etc. you would earn ‘merit’ so that sin would be forgiven at a faster pace.
The Pharisees have been trying to trick Jesus in the last several chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus responds time and time again with a parable. From what we know about the Pharisees they spent their entire lives doing that which they believed was right in the eyes of God. The smallest details weren’t left to chance. They believed they would be rewarded by God for all the wonderful attentiveness and sacrifices. The idea that anyone who had not been dedicated to life-long study could enter the kingdom of God alongside them was offensive. Here is Jesus telling them, and us, that God doesn’t work that way.
Parables give us a sometimes not so clear message about how we are to live our lives. Our standards of justice are not God’s standards. The landowner told the first group what he would pay them for the day’s labor. They agreed to that wage. They didn’t ask to be paid by the hour. The others hired at various times throughout the day weren’t told what they would be paid just that it would ‘be right’.
I’ve never been in a position of working in the hot sun all day as migrant workers do. I’ve never had to stand around waiting for someone to hire me as a day laborer as we heard about in today’s Gospel. I know myself well enough to know I’d be miserable. I want to be near water relaxing when I’m in the sun. You can tell from my tan that I’ve done quite a lot of that this summer. Gardening, working in a field hasn’t ever been my ‘thing’. I know many people who love to garden and work outside, and I thank God for those people because I enjoy the fruit of their labor. Most people I know are doing it because they want to do it, not because they must in order to put food on a table.
Too many have no choice and must accept any type of labor they can get. So, if I’d been working 12 hours and was paid the same as someone who’d worked an hour, I would not be happy. I understand the workers who grumble because that’s the worldly standard.
Aren’t we lucky that God has a different standard! The first workers were paid exactly what they’d agreed to. The landowner was providing all other workers a living wage so that no matter their situation the essentials were provided. Jesus is telling us that God shows goodness to everyone equally. Our human values don’t matter with God. For God it only matters that we see the opportunities and gifts that we receive with thankfulness. Can you imagine the grace the last workers felt when they received their pay? They knew they hadn’t ‘earned’ it, yet it was given freely. The 1st workers were jealous because the owner was generous.
Can we recognize that this is a difficult lesson that we all need to learn from? We may not feel that life is fair, and we know that God is fair. We don’t understand the ways of God because we are limited in our capability. We aren’t ‘owed’ anything from God. God gives us from God’s abundance, love and joy. We might be tempted to believe our actions deserve reward and when we do that, we are trying to put God on our level, we believe we are entitled to more of God’s love.
May we remember that God is generous, loving, and treats everyone equally and looks for us to offer our thanksgivings for all we abundantly receive.
From SSJE’s Daily Word I quote:
When we practice loving fully, our great reward is being free from holding onto feelings like anger and hatred. And then instead of enemies, we have opportunities to act in the world for peace and justice, as servants of God’s love.
-Br. Nicholas Bartoli