Being thankful for what God gives us and not envying what he gives to others. We learn early that life is not fair and we hear children (and adults) of all ages getting worked up about it! Our selfish human nature is seen from the beginning in Cain’s jealousy and anger when God accepted his brother Abel’s offering and rejected his own. It ended in murder! We saw something of our selfish nature during the lockdown with hoarding and aggressive behaviour in supermarkets.
God provides for our needs but not our wants. When the Israelites were making their exodus from Egypt God provided manna, described in the hymn as bread of heaven to feed us till we want no more. It provided physical and spiritual food to give basic nourishment and strength for the journey and every one had enough for their needs. However, the Israelites complained to Moses that they preferred being in slavery to the Egyptians where they had fresh fish and variety of food. Life was not fair and discontent obscured the vision of the promised land.
Jesus tells the parable of the owner of the vineyard to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is an upside down Kingdom and I am reminded of the nursery rhyme about the folks who live in backward town, who are inside out and upside down, they only eat the apple peeling and take their walks across the ceiling. This is a kingdom where the first shall be last, where we listen to the wisdom of children, where the king is a servant, where we are valued not for what we do but for who we are as a child of God, where we have a function in the body of Christ. A kingdom where we love God and our neighbours as ourselves (Jesus teaching in a nutshell). That means being alongside and encouraging others and sharing what we are given.
The vineyard owner was compassionate and gave all his workers 1 denarius, regardless of how many hours they worked. This was equivalent to our minimum wage, a subsistence to provide for each worker’s family. Those who had worked all day in the heat of the sun complained that it was not fair and they deserved more for working more. Today in these strange times we could liken this to some complaining that it is not fair that some people are furloughed while others have to work.
Who had the better part in the story, those working all day or those waiting and hoping for work? Time dragged for those not chosen to work, they felt rejected, their self esteem ebbed and they became anxious about not being able to feed their families. The vineyard owner cared and provided for all his workers, regardless of how long he needed them for. This illustrates God’s amazing grace, his unconditional love and mercy are gifts that we can never earn because they are freely and generously given. In the words of the hymn, ‘hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered’ and by that sacrificial act of love we are changed and renewed to bring our lives as a daily offering, however much or little we are called to do.
As Desmond Tutu puts it: ‘There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.’ We are told to live in the upside down kingdom of God where life is only unfair if we put ourselves first and Jesus tells us that the first shall be last. Amen.