Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a
A hard-working parish priest, after a lifetime of ministry, died and went to heaven. When he got there he was assigned an attractive two bedroom house to serve as his heavenly abode. He was rather pleased with his house until he took a walk around the neighborhood and ran into a parishioner who had been a cab driver and now was living in a mansion with a swimming pool and tennis courts. The priest went directly to St. Peter to complain. He said, “I’ve worked my whole life long serving God’s people. Now this parishioner of mine is a very good person, but he was a cab driver! Why is he living in so much bigger a house than I am?” St. Peter said, “Here’s how it goes. When you preached, people slept. But when he drove, people prayed.”
We do not always understand God’s ways, and that is why it is dangerous to complain. Complaining takes place in today’s Gospel. Those who were hired first complain because those who worked only one hour received the same wage as they did. We certainly understand their feelings. We probably would have the same reaction, if we were in their shoes. This parable is one of the most difficult parables for us to understand. But, before we become too critical, we must realize that all the parable is doing is reflecting life as it is.
The truth is that life is unfair. We would like to think that those who work the hardest would be the most successful. But we all know people who are working two, maybe three, jobs and are still unable to support their families. We would like to think that the people who have the most talent are those would be the most respected and compensated. But we all know of football players who cannot even remember to keep their helmets on their heads (sorry about this) who are making millions of dollars more than teachers who give their life instructing our young. We would like to think that people who are good and who live honestly are going to have easier lives. But we all know people who are the “salt of the earth” who have terrible crosses to bear. And each time we see any of these inequalities, we are tempted to complain.
That is why today’s parable is helpful. It shows us how to live in an unfair world. What does the landowner say to those who complain? He says, “Take what belongs to you and go.” Don’t worry about what other people have received. Take your own life. Rejoice in it and live it.
Life does not always fall into categories that we think are just. We perceive such injustice immediately. It is the first thing we notice. Just listen to the workers who were hired first in today’s parable. They say to the landowner, “These last have worked only one hour and yet you have chosen to make them equal to us who have borne the work of the day and the scorching heat.” These workers immediately recognize the unfairness of the situation.
But today’s parable is not about what the worker see but what they do not see. What they do not see is the generosity of the landowner. More specifically, they do not see the generosity of the landowner to them. They recognize that the landowner has chosen to be generous to those who were hired last, and they resent it. But they do not recognize how they have been given a job, a day’s labor, by which they can support their families. You see, today’s parable is about blindness, the blindness that so may of us have to the blessings of God in our life. The parable warns us that we will never be able to see God’s generosity to us as long as we look with jealous eyes.
In an unfair world, jealousy can consume us. If we compare ourselves to others, that comparison can make us blind to the blessings that we have received. The gospel reminds us that our blessings are real, and it is only by embracing them that we will be able to find happiness regardless of how much more others seem to be given.
“Take what belongs to you and go.” Live the life you have been given, not the life that you wish you had been given, not the life that other people have been given. Live your life fully because complaining will only diminish you, only lessen you.
So, what is it you complain about? Your spouse? Your children? Your parents? Your job? Your retirement? Your church? Your government? Your health? Be careful about complaining because it can rob you of life. Instead, take what belongs to you and go. If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it then change the way you think about it. But, don’t waste your time complaining. Life is simply too short for that.
The good news is this: life may be unfair, but God is in charge. And God will not forget any of us.