Fair Is What Is Good for You
#FairIsWhatIsGoodForYou is the podcast for Sept. 24, 2017. When we seek fairness from God, we tend to think of “fair” as “self-interest”. A Generous God puts a wrinkle in this story that impacts how we should treat others who come to our church. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #GenerousGod #Matthew20 #Children #WorkersInVineyard #Vineyard #GrapeHarvesting #Unemployed #LivingWage #FairAsGenerosity #Jews #Greeks #Gentiles
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For The Church of Saint Raphael the Archangel, Munster, IN and My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/24/2017 The 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matt. 18:1-16.
“Fair is what is good for you.”
That is what I used to tell my children. To be a father, it is necessary to understand that the welfare of each individual child is within a context of a family and also within the context of their needs. It would not be fair for me to give in to one child that cannot appreciate what I am doing for them, yet deny the child who is grateful all the time.
Why should the workers who came at the third hour be angry because the workers that came at the eleventh hour got paid a days’ wage? Are they jealous? Are they greedy? Why do people who didn’t work as hard get as much as those who worked all day? Why is it that the 3rd hour workers think they are entitled to more when they agreed to what they got? Do those who are the chosen people get to have a special place because they were chosen by God first, or do those who come after get to gloat about getting the same wage?
These are all really good questions. Yet, they are not the right questions.
Over the summer, I have said some things about humanity. I have said we tend to be selfish, mean, jealous of others, small minded, petty, and cruel in our efforts to balance out the scales of our justice. We also are horribly conscious about our position over and against each other and that is what this Gospel is all about from the human vantage point.
The Gospel of Matthew today has Jesus telling a parable in a region which was the Southern Kingdom of Judah when David was around. So, we know that Jesus has gone from near Gentile territory in Capernaum to very Jewish territory in the Southern end of the Kingdom. He is preaching to people who are part of the “Chosen People.” Not unlike the parable of the Prodigal Son, Our Lord tells a story to the Chosen People who were established and were called to come work the vineyard of the Lord at 9 AM who have to come to gripes with what happens at the end of the day. In the case of the Prodigal Son, it was the older brother who had to come to grips with God’s love for the lost. Today, the 3rd hour workers need to swallow the same wage as the 11th hour workers. (This is where the term, “at the 11th hour” comes from, btw.)
It is not an unusual story for the area, either. When the grapes were ready for harvest, it was not unusual for a vineyard owner to go out throughout the day and hire workers. When the grapes were ripe, they needed to be harvested quickly or they would go bad. So, the owner went out throughout the day to lighten the load and maximize the harvest.
There is nothing unusual about the workers who were standing in the marketplace later in the day. They said that they simply had not been chosen for work that day. There is a great scene in the movie Cinderella Man where all of the men of the great depression stand at the gate hoping that they would be picked for the five jobs from the hundreds who showed up for work. This is the same scenario: many standing in the square, but only a few chosen.
When the end of the day comes, so does a sense of entitlement come, a sense of privilege. It is reasonable, from a human standpoint, to think that if someone who showed up later got paid what you agreed to initially that there would be an adjustment in your pay, ahem, higher. It is reasonable, if our foundation is to think that we are the ones who control the money, who control the business, who control the vineyard. If this is what we saw, then we saw incorrectly.
The owner of the vineyard says this in English, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or will you begrudge my generosity?” Yet, in the Greek it says this, literally, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”
It is clear to me that Jesus is speaking to the Jews, the chosen people about their view of his ministry. He welcomes them because the Father in Heaven asked them to come at the third hour to work his vineyard. Jesus also knows that they are proud of their place as the first workers chosen. They could easily resent the workers who came later in the day. It is a surprise in earthly terms that a person who came late would get paid the same as those who worked all day. Yet, in heavenly terms, it makes perfect sense that the Owner of the Vineyard would make sure that his workers got paid enough to survive, no matter how much they worked. Why are the Chosen People surprised? Why would they not think that the Father in Heaven, who has been so generous to them, wants to take care of the well-being of all humanity? Why would they be amazed at the generosity of the Giver of Life?
It is because they are looking at it with an evil eye, the same eye that Lucifer looked at God in heaven: an eye that does not rejoice that there is good, but an eye that only looks at self-advantage. Why can’t the first workers shake their heads and say, “That owner! He is so generous! Isn’t that nice that he made sure those people had enough to live on?”
This is why to become a member of the Kingdom of God, we need a change of heart and eye. Our hearts of stone need to be turned to hearts of flesh and our earthly blindness needs heavenly sight. We need to have a heart that is set on the same things as God and we need an eye that sees things with the Father’s Kingdom as the important focus.
It is wrong for the Jews hearing Jesus to be angry that the Gentiles, sinners, and tax collectors are being offered salvation even though the late comers have not been keeping the arduous laws of the Torah. Yet, it is no different than those of us who belong to churches to make new comers who dress differently, look differently, or aren’t of the “same” kind of people we are to feel awkward in God’s house Sunday after Sunday. It is wrong to give a struggling mother a snide look when her children cannot be quiet during the Mass. It is wrong to think that someone who is old cannot understand what it is like to be young. It is wrong to make anyone feel unwelcome in God’s house even though we may even KNOW that they are living a sinful life. It is not the time, nor the place.
We, who are members of the Father’s workforce should rejoice that more workers are being brought on board to harvest the new wine, the Wine of the New Covenant, poured out for you and many for the forgiveness of sins. When the Father in Heaven is generous to those who are evil, why should we begrudge it and question it? Maybe he is also sending people like the Prophet Nathan to those evil rich people to tell them to be as generous as he is. We do not know.
We, who have done some really bad things in our own lives, need to have a holy eye, a generous eye, a benevolent eye, that rejoices when the Lord welcomes new people into the vineyard. Whether it is at the 3rd, 6th, 9th, or 11th hour, what do we care? We should be delighted for them. We should be happy that they weren’t left behind. We should be rejoicing that the workers in the vineyard have come at all. We should be happy that they are receiving the wage necessary to live forever. We should and would if our hearts were changed and our eyes saw correctly.
Fair is what is good for the other, the one in need, the one who didn’t know that they were loved, the one who didn’t know that God has a job for them to do in his kingdom, and the one who didn’t know that they were being offered salvation forever and ever. If we are true workers of the vineyard, we would be reminding the Father to go into the marketplace and get more workers.
Fair is what is good, what is needed, what is generous. We know because that is the God we serve, the Generous Owner, the Generous Father, the Generous God. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian