Today Jesus tells us a story (Matthew 20:1-16) that most of us do not like very much. The owner of a vineyard hires workers in the early morning, then later in the day, and finally, just before quitting time.
It comes time to pay the workers and everybody gets the same pay. They all get a full day’s pay. Those who worked all day complain. We can almost hear their words: “I worked all day in the hot sun. I get a day’s pay. He worked only one hour and he only worked two hours and they get paid for a whole day’s work, exactly what I got for slaving all day in the hot sun.” The workers complain: “It’s not fair!”
The owner retorts: “It’s my money! Tough luck! A contract is a contract!” What the workers in the parable come up against is one of life’s hardest realities – LIFE IS NOT FAIR! LIFE IS NOT FAIR! Early in life we learn how unfair life is. And this lesson is learned again and again.
In the family, the youngest child is allowed to date at a younger age. “It’s not fair!” the older brothers and sisters cry out as they watch the youngest child pampered by their parents. Meanwhile, the youngest child sees the older teenagers get to drive the car, stay up late at night and get bigger allowances. What does the youngest child say? “Life is not fair!”
So many times, life leaves us feeling cheated. How about the couple who pray for a child, maybe even spending thousands of dollars on fertility specialists and they still have no baby of their own. Meanwhile, a young teenage boy and girl down the street make one mistake and wind up pregnant. Both couples cry out: “It’s not fair!”
Or think about an elderly mother who needs nursing home care. More often than not, only one of the children is there for their elderly parent. That one daughter visits her mother every day. She helps her in every way. The other children visit, maybe on Mother’s Day or the holidays. In her tiredness the faithful daughter says, “It’s not fair! I’m the only one taking care of our mother.”
The truth is – Life is not set up to be fair. Some people have heart disease, others don’t. A few people strike it rich, most don’t. Very few of us will be rich, beautiful, athletic and in perfect health. Most of us will struggle to pay our bills, be uncoordinated, ordinary and have health issues. A lesson we learn early and face often is – LIFE IS NOT FAIR!
How about God? Is God fair? No! God is not fair! God is Generous! God goes well beyond being fair. Think about life itself. Life is God’s gift. I had a retreat master who started every session with the prayer: “Thank you, God, for loving us into life.” Our God is a generous God, a giver of gifts.
Today’s parable is not a parable about fairness or labor-relations management. It is a story about God, a God who leaves 99 to reach for one, who sweeps the house for a lost coin, who embraces a son who has blown the father’s money, and who gives one-hour laborers too much money. It is a story that is supposed to take our breath away and ask: “What kind of a God is this who is against all human expectations?”
Galileo Galilei really shook up the world almost 400 years ago. Everybody who lived 400 years ago thought it was all about us. We’re it! We’re the center of the universe! We’re the center of everything! The universe all revolves around us. They felt that the sun shines on us and then the sun goes and hides for a while and then comes back and shines on us again. Why? Because we are everything!
Galileo Galilei said NO! You’ve got it all wrong. The sun doesn’t go around the earth. We go around the sun. So the powers that be threw Galileo into jail in the Vatican. They said: “You can’t think that way. It’s heresy. Your thinking is against God, against the Bible, against the Church, and against humanity.”
Galileo retorted: “I can think that way because that’s the way it is. That’s what the science God gave us is saying to us. We’re not the center of the universe. You just don’t get it!”
When we hear today’s parable, we’re like the people who lived 400 years ago. We want to say to Jesus: “You’ve got it all wrong! Where is my living wage for all that I have gone through working in the hot sun?”
But Jesus, like Galileo, says: “No, no, YOU’VE got it all wrong! You’re living your life comparing yourself to others. The world and your life are about God’s generosity to you and to everyone else. It is a whole different way of seeing your life. It’s about time you started to realize who God is.”
On March 4, 2008, almost 400 years after Galileo was condemned of heresy and put in jail, the Vatican announced that it is erecting a statue to Galileo Galilei in the Vatican Gardens right where he was put into jail in 1633.
It has taken the Church almost 400 years to come around to seeing some things as they are. If I were alive 400 years from now, I’d no doubt see other statues in the Vatican to people who today also see things as they are. The worldwide Synod on Synodality will soon be held in Rome, October 4-29. No doubt, a few Galileo’s who see things as they are will be present. They too may accused of heresy for seeing things the way they are. They too will have to wait centuries for their statues to appear at the Vatican.
How long does it take YOU to come around to seeing things from God’s point of view?
OUR GOD IS NOT FAIR. OUR GOD IS GENEROUS!
Thanks to Pixabay for the photo.
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL THING IT IS TO KNOW THAT GOD’S LOVE FOR US IS SO GREAT THAT IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY OF BEING MEASURED!
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