“It’s Thankfully Not Fair” by Colleen O’Sullivan
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.' When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat.' He said to one of them in reply, 'My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?' (Matthew 20:8-15)
Loving and forgiving are You, O Lord;
slow to anger, rich in kindness, loving and forgiving are You.
All my being, bless the Lord, bless the holy name of God.
I guess whining that something isn’t fair isn’t a modern-day phenomenon. Jealousy and resentment date back to Cain and Abel’s day. Cain thought God preferred his brother’s sacrifice of a sheep to his own offering of grain. Envy simmered for a while and then suddenly the envious thoughts boiled over into hatred, resulting in Cain murdering his brother.
People back in Jesus’ day evidently whined as well, so the Lord told them this parable. The audience Matthew was addressing a few years later was upset because the first Christians were all from “proper” Jewish backgrounds, and now Gentiles, non-Jews, were becoming followers of Christ. Who knows what kind of backgrounds they might have come from or what kind of pagan lives they might have led? Once they were baptized, however, they were being treated with the same respect as any other Christian. To some, this didn’t seem fair.
In today’s parable, the workers hired in the morning couldn’t believe that those hired toward the end of the day received the same pay they did after they had toiled all day long. Wait a minute, they protested. It’s not fair! If they had stayed focused on their reward from the vineyard owner, they would have been perfectly happy. They were paid what was promised. They had what they needed. But that little jealous streak within caused them to look around and compare. They couldn’t find it within themselves to rejoice at the good fortune of the others. They couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair it was. The landowner says it’s his money and he wants to be generous with it. What small-minded people they are who are so envious of others’ good fortune!
Jealousy and resentment seem so unnecessary. God has love enough for all of us. God loves each of us beyond all understanding. I’m glad God isn’t fair, by our definition of the word. I’d rather be showered with God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness than treated fairly, or according to what I deserve. I know myself, my sins and faults too well to ever wish God would be “fair.”
Do you ever find yourself feeling jealous of or resentful toward someone else? Spend a little time in prayer reflecting on the gifts God has bestowed on you - all the times you’ve been forgiven and the many occasions when you’ve experienced God’s mercy and love. By the time you are finished, I doubt you’ll be looking at anyone else with envy, because you’ll realize how totally blessed you are, the recipient of God’s great generosity.