Faith Matters - No Small Change

“Excuse me, Boss; I think you may have made a mistake. I just opened my pay envelope. The amount is right and that is fine. But you know that new guy who just started here late this afternoon. Well, I was near him when he opened his pay and he lets out this great whoop. I ask him what he is so happy about and he tells me. You know what? His pay was the same as mine. That is what I mean when I say there must be some mistake. You remember I came here first thing this morning and worked all day. I did not even take lunch or any coffee breaks. So how could the new guy get the same as me? He started work just before we quit.  I know that you want to do what is right, so I just thought that I would bring this mistake to your attention. It is not fair and I know that you will want to ask him to return what he did not earn. Would you like me to send him in?”

We do not know much, but we know what is unfair. One of our most highly developed inherited traits, passed down from our Eden ancestors, is a particularly keen awareness of when we have been unfaired against. We respond pretty much the way the hearers must have responded as Matthew reports Jesus’ parable. The caprice of the landowner, paying all workers the same, strikes everyone as bizarre, even though that caprice is generous, even extravagant. Jesus, master teacher, elicits from his hearers and from us the response he desires: “it’s not fair."   

It is an old conversation. It is a new conversation. It is an eternal conversation. I contend with God on a regular basis. Usually I plead my case when some injustice is perpetrated upon innocents by the authorities, by criminals, or by Mother Nature. I see unfair every day and I often use the occasion to call to God’s attention some abuse or other that I can’t let pass without comment, question or recommendation. Most of my outrage comes when I see victims on the scaffold and corrupt power on the throne.   I stand in a long queue before the Almighty to make my complaint. It is not fair that the innocents suffer what they do not deserve.  

But then there are those other occasions when I show my other face. I am not proud of my complaint, but I find myself standing in the other queue with my unfair list. But now, instead of a complaint about someone who has been abused, I am protesting someone who has been blessed. Using my own life as a measure, I can see unfair at every turn. It is not fair that there is blessing for those who have not earned it. I appear never to be satisfied with the way God runs things.  

The depth and complexity of any parable defies a single interpretation. Here we can place ourselves within the story and stand with the landowner or the laborers. From where we stand, we respond accordingly. However, this is a parable for disciples, for only disciples can have any chance whatsoever of entering upon the deeper meaning. One group receives their just wage and the other group receives an undeserved gift. We will visit this same point on another occasion when Jesus tells of a son who journeys to a far country to waste his inheritance.  

This is not a prescription for labor relations. It is not an outline for a personnel manual. It is instruction for the faithful, for the church, and for the saints. It is a parable for all those of us who try to do our job well, tithe, make lime Jell-O for the funeral dinners, dutifully serve on the world’s most boring committees, teach church school forever, let everyone else get in line before us, build houses for strangers, walk the extra mile, and rarely count the cost. The landowner asks the complainers “are you envious because I am generous?” Another way to ask it might be “do you think that because I am generous to everyone that means that I am putting you down?”  

It serves to remind those of us on the way that at the entrance of God’s kingdom we pass in only with empty hands, empty pockets. The price of admission is nothing we bring, buy, earn, do, merit, accomplish, or achieve. The price of admission has already been paid for us and we all stand before the door as the blessed. I have come to accept, understand and rejoice in that amazing grace offered to all. It is the bottom line of what I believe about God. At the end of the day it is where I lay me down. If only I could live it.  

However, here is the hard part. Here is why I understand that my conversion is incomplete, God not yet finished with me. I still have my preferred distribution of God’s grace. I am perfectly prepared to advise God on who deserves grace and who does not. There is still a part of me that wants some reassurance from God that we all get what we deserve, what is fair. I would happily advise God on how much each laborer should be paid based upon my judgment of their worth. I don’t know much, but I know fair and unfair.  

I can stand in both lines on the same day. Never satisfied, I protest innocent suffering in one breath and complain about unmerited grace in the next. I should inscribe an admonition over my desk: learn to weep with the wounded and learn to rejoice with the blessed.  

Some of us are slower learners than others. Because God loves everyone the same does not mean that God loves me any less.The grace of God is the gift of God’s self. There is only one gift. God is the gift. Thank God, we do not get what we deserve. All the laborers get the same pay because God has no small change.  

God’s peace.  

Chuck Johns 

By: Reverend Chuck Johns On 7/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters