"Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat." (Matthew 20: 10-12)
"It's not fair!" How many times as a kid did you cry out these words in response to a sibling receiving what you perceived as preferential treatment? I know that I tried it repeatedly with both my parents. You would think that I would have learned after my first attempt that absolutely no adult sympathy would come my way. Learning that whining to my parents over my big brother getting to sit in the front passenger's seat of the car 'all the time!', or over my little brother getting to mow the yard while I was stuck inside doing Saturday morning house cleaning, taught me how to parent my own kids better whenever they cried out "It's not fair!"
The gospel lesson for this Sunday worship could be subtitled, "It's not fair!", for in it Jesus tells a parable about day laborers, who at the end of the work day whine about receiving the same payment as those who had worked less number of hours. If I had been one of these day laborers who had toiled from sun-up to sun-down, I probably would have joined in the whiny chorus, myself!
Where does one find meaning in this text? Is Jesus telling us to buck-up and stop whining about life not being fair? Is he instructing us to keep our feelings inside, and to let them fester?
The opening of the parable gives us a hint to its meaning: "For the kingdom of heaven is like a. . ." Jesus is giving us a glimpse into how things work in God's kingdom (the kingdom of heaven). Rules that are opposite to the rules we live by on earth. Ridiculous rules, by human standards.
Thankfully, God lives by God's standards, not by human standards. Think about a time when you said something hurtful to another person, and that person forgave you for what you had said. It may have been easy for you to hurt the other person, but not so easy for that person to forgive you; they could have chosen to respond with cruel words, or to hold a grudge against you--easy responses by human standards. Instead, they took the kingdom way. God's way. Although kingdom of God/heaven rules are not easy to follow, they offer a reward to both the offender and the offended. This reward, in church lingo, is referred to as GRACE. Grace is God's gift to us, lavishly offered. And God offers grace as God sees fit.
I believe that if I had been one of the day laborer in this parable who only worked a fraction of the day and yet received a full day's wage, I may have felt a tiny twinge of guilt, but also thankful for the generosity of the landowner. My family would have benefited from a full day's wage with a full meal in their tummies, and I would have learned to be more generous in the future with others.
God's grace is always lavishly given. Enough so that there is more than enough to spread around. As Christians, we know that we receive God's grace, even when we don't deserve it. Just like the day laborer who cried, "It's not fair!"
In thanks for God's grace,