I moved to Montesano from the wine country in California. This ancient story we hear today is still being lived out where I used to live. Imagine this: About this time of year, the grapes are ready to be harvested. The winery manager needs additional workers so he goes down to Home Depot in Santa Rosa where the day laborers wait for work. He hires 10 men, tells them they’ll get paid $50, a day’s wage. They jump into the back of his truck and get to work. By noon, he realizes that rain is coming and those grapes need to be harvested TODAY so he goes and hires 10 more men, promising them $50. They are eager for the work. As the day lengthens, the sky darkens and the manager is in a panic. He races down to Home Depot at the last minute, hires 10 more men and promises them $50 to work like maniacs to get that harvest in.
Everyone is happy until the workers line up for their pay and realize that they are all getting the same amount of money, no matter how long they’ve worked! Those men who’ve worked 8 hours in the field are livid and feel cheated. Those last minute men who only worked one hour can’t believe their luck. The manager stands up on a barrel and announces: “Look! I promised all of you the same reward: $50. I’ve got the right to do whatever I want with my money. Don’t be mad at me because I choose to be generous! So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
I wonder what it would be like if the guys who worked all day said, “Oh, that’s great, the farm manager sure is a generous guy! We are all going to be able to go home and feed our families tonight!” Why do they care so much about what the other workers made?
The last shall be first. The early workers felt they deserved more because they had been chosen first. This reminds me of our country: those who arrived on the Mayflower consider themselves more “American” than us later arrivals. Of course, they ignore the nation of Native Americans who were already here. We’ve all seen wave after wave of immigrants discriminated against: the Irish, the Poles, the Japanese, and these days, those arriving from Mexico and Central America. “We deserve more of the American dream than those people just arriving!” Jesus upturns this when he says, ‘The last shall be first and the first shall be last’.
So, when you hear today’s gospel, who relates to the guys in this story who worked all day long and feel cheated at the end of the day? Does anyone relate to the last minute worker who gets paid for a full day’s work? If you relate to the farm manager, then you must think you are God.
Most everyone relates to the aggrieved workers who should, in a fair world, make more than those who worked so much less. Well, I think that some people do relate to the last minute worker. Some people say, “Boy, no matter how hard I try, I’ve not been able to get a job for a long time but Jesus is telling me here that in the kingdom of heaven, I will be rewarded just as well as someone who has been working for years.” I bet there are many people on the Harbor who hear these stories from the underdog’s point of view.
We all know situations where we feel we do more than others yet get the same reward. In Kevin’s family, I used to hear his older sisters complaining that they had to do all the work growing up and about how hard they had it compared to the lucky younger children; Karen and Kevin. Unfair!
Think of the parable of the prodigal son where the bad son goes off, spends his inheritance, and makes a mess of his life, while the good son stays home and takes care of his dad and the family business. When the bad son comes home he gets a big party. The good son shouts; “Unfair!” It is very hard to see why Jesus keeps telling us these stories that seem warped, so unfair. These parables bring out our childish sense of fairness and unfairness. Well, maybe we need to grow up and try to see these stories as mature Christians. Jesus just didn’t care one bit about fairness or unfairness, at least not the way we think of it.
Oh wait, this is a parable. This is another story where Jesus turns everything upside down and shakes us up. Because that’s how Jesus makes us see God’s truth, NOT our truth. God’s way, NOT our way. God’s hugely generous love, not our judging, stingy love.
The Rev. Ken Kesselus teaches that God is figuring out what is right for these workers so We Don’t Have To! We don’t have to judge fairness and unfairness. God is doing that. Perhaps we need to focus on our own spiritual fitness, not spend time and energy judging the condition of everybody else’s spirituality. These parables teach that life is from God’s point of view, not a matter of fairness or unfairness. It’s not a matter of deserving or undeserving. All we have is a gift from God, whether we deserve it or not, like the winery manager, God is generous, overwhelmingly generous.
God’s grace is showered on all of us, like a heavy rainstorm. God doesn’t shower a little grace on me, none on you, a lot on of grace on you and you. Nope - full on shower, drenching ALL of us. Is that fair? God doesn’t care so why do we care so much? Maybe we need to trust God on this. Maybe we need to stop assuming that we are fully deserving of God’s grace while others … not so much. Like the pope said; “Who am I to judge?” If the pope isn’t judging, maybe I need to chill out a little too.
We can rise above declarations of fair and unfair by trusting that God is taking care of things. It’s not easy but this prayer by Mother Teresa details exactly how to genuinely live in relationship with God:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
You know, dogs do a good job of loving unconditionally, and not judging. Dogs understand that they have a close relationships with God. Let me tell you a story about that: There was a family that wanted a dog…a Christian dog. So they go to the Christian dog store and fall in love with a nice Labrador. The guy at the store brings it out and says, "This dog does many tricks; go fetch..." The dog runs away and brings back a bible. "Look up John 3:16..." the dog flips through the bible and finds the verse. The family was very impressed so they took the dog home. That night the neighbors came over to see the new dog. The father of the family says, "Our new dog is incredible. He does lots of tricks...go fetch..." and the dog returns with a bible. "Look up John 3:16..." and the dog finds the verse. The family stands proudly behind the dog as the neighbor asks, "that's great but does he do any normal tricks?" The father nervously looks at his wife and says, "sure! uh...heel..." The dog jumps on his lap, puts his paw on the man's forehead and starts praying.