This week’s readings:
Isaiah 55:6-9 Philippians 1:20-24, 27(a)
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 Matthew 20:1-16(a)
I feel like our society is in a really weird place right now. We have an entire generation of Americans who have decided they want to decide for themselves what is “fair” and “right” and they will throw a fit if they don’t get it. In fairness, we’ve probably always been this way, we humans. We’ve kind of always acted like we’ve known better and we’re smarter and cooler and such than those who have come before us.
I mean, Adam and Eve thought that as well, in a sense. God created them and put them in this perfect place in perfect relationship with Himself and the world He had created for them. All they had to do was live as He said. But they knew better.
For a long time I would read the parable from this week’s gospel and just be flummoxed as to how I was supposed to think about it. I mean, on the surface, it just doesn’t seem right. It seems like the guys who worked all day got screwed in this deal. And I really struggled with Jesus saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like this…”
I was like, hold on, this doesn’t seem right. How could the Kingdom of Heaven be so unfair? I mean, isn’t that what we say in our hearts? Isn’t that what Adam and Eve thought after the serpent deceived them?
This doesn’t seem fair.
Why can’t we eat from this tree?
Why am I slaving all day in the sun and only getting paid this?
I pray and “put good things in” as far as the world is concerned. I’m a good person. Why is this happening?
This doesn’t seem fair.
Who does God think He is? He owes me!
Am I the only one that thinks like this sometimes?
This parable is like that. I mean, we read it and we agree with the guys that were complaining. But the fact is that they had a deal. They had an agreement that was just and right. I find it poignant that the “landowner” says,
“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?”
That hits hard, doesn’t it? Have we asked ourselves that question? When things “work out” for others and not for us, are we envious because God is generous?
Then we read the Psalm for the day and we are reminded,
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. The Lord is near to all who call upon him. The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.”
We’re tempted to look at things as we want them and we think God is unkind to us. The Psalmist reminds us that, despite what we “feel,” God is indeed kind and merciful and gracious. How can that be, we ask, when things aren’t working out in a way that we think is fair?
Because God is not like us. I fear we too often put God in our human shaped box. We expect Him to be like us and He is nothing like us. The prophet Isaiah reminds us in this week’s OT reading,
“Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
He is not like us. We are not like Him.
We say we want fair.
We really don’t want fair. We want mercy. Mercy isn’t fair. Fair would be an eternity separated from God’s mercy (we call this Hell). God’s mercy is a gift that we don’t get to negotiate. Because He is the giver of the gift, it is His to give as He wills. If we’re honest, the ingratitude expressed by the workers in the parable is ours also. We want the gift of salvation but we want to negotiate the terms of that salvation.
His ways are not our ways. God gives as He wills, not as we will.
And that is a very good thing!
Thanks be to God for His great mercy toward us!