Almost 30 years ago, I moved to Montesano from the wine country in California. This ancient harvest story we hear today is still being lived out there. 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 $80, 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 $80. 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 $80 to work like maniacs to get that harvest in.
At the end of the day, 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 all day in the field are angry 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 pay: $80. 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.”
Now, do you think any of the guys who worked all day were happy and 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!” Probably not. But why do they worry 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, not last. 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 seen wave after wave of immigrants discriminated against: the Irish, the Poles, the Japanese, and these days, those arriving from Mexico and Central America. My parent’s families were from Norway and Mexico. But those old timers say: “We deserve more of the American dream than those new people just arriving!” What do you think Jesus would do? Jesus would place the most value on the most recent immigrants, those last to arrive, over the first arrivals. The last shall be first.
We all know situations where we feel we do more than others yet get the same reward. In my husband 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 works in 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 my childish sense of fairness and unfairness. Well, maybe I need to grow up and try to see these stories as a mature Christian. 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 worry about fairness and unfairness. God is taking care of everything. These parables teach us to see life from God’s point of view. It’s not a matter of deserving or undeserving. All we have is a gift from God, whether we deserve it or not, and 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 with love and grace. Is that fair? 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 about Gay people; “Who am I to judge?” If the pope isn’t judging, maybe we need to chill out a little too.
You know, like God, dogs do a good job of loving unconditionally, and not judging. 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 with his hairy paw and finds the verse. The family was very impressed, so they took the dog home.
That night the neighbors came over to meet 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 sits 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.