Of all the parables Jesus shared, the one we just heard is the most difficult to comprehend, especially if we are business people. The story just does not seem fair.
We are accustomed to signing contracts, receiving fare wages, abiding by just labor laws. Who ever heard of everyone being paid the same? Why did the landowner pay those who had worked only one hour the same money as those who worked the whole day? Sounds like a bad deal for the men who worked the whole day, but a really good deal for the ones who worked only one hour. They must have felt like they won the lottery. Sort of like the person in the casino who played a machine that kept taking and paying—so the machine kept the person interested. After several hours the person lost interest. The next one to sit at the machine placed one bet and hit the jack pot. Call it “luck”—being at the right place at the right time. Seems like some folks are luckier than others—even those who are on the wrong side of the law. While some people who work hard, do their best, follow the Commandments—get a bad deal. So the “age old” question arises, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” A walking saint ends up with terminal cancer. Dedicated parents lose their child in a car accident. Fire destroys a family’s home, leaving them with nothing. The most common reaction is to blame God. Or to think that God is punishing us for our sins—that God is getting even with us for past transgressions. Rather silly to think that God is manipulating us like puppets on a string. Yes, God is involved in our lives, but allows us to make our own choices. We are responsible for the choices we make, which include consequences.
God is never out to get us or angry with us or out to punish us. Just like the landowner, God gives us gifts that we do not deserve. Fact is that we can never deserve God’s mercy. Everything is gift. Although we might be tempted to think that somehow, some way we have earned what we have—through our education, hard work, last name. Without out a doubt, some of us have worked hard, but who gave us the energy to work? Who gave us the intelligence to pursue a higher education? Only because the landowner called us into his vineyard do we have life and the opportunity to serve. Consider that we are like the workers who were called at different times of the day. The one commonality is that we are all working for the same landowner. He’s the boss, He’s in charge. We are not meant to be in competition with each other.
From the time we are children, competition has been a reality for us. Got to be the best, excel and be rewarded; fail and be punished. The concept of competition is a learned behavior. Our life is not about competition. Like the workers in the vineyard, everybody gets something. No one is turned away empty handed and no one is given what they deserve. The people who live only for themselves will be jealous of what others have. The folks who live to serve will be grateful for whatever blessings they receive. During these days of unrest, violence, extreme disagreement, we would do well to remember that we are all on the same side. If we remain faithful to our vocation, the landowner will show us the way. If we are overly concerned about who is better and who is not good enough, we will be disappointed. There is a lot of repressed anger because of the circumstances in our world. Who’s fault is it? Who’s to blame? We want to blame somebody. There are no simple answers to complicated questions. Just like the landowner did not give an explanation for why He paid everyone the same amount money, He gives us no explanation of why we are experiencing the present difficulty. We are called to trust. A bigger wisdom than all of humanity put together is in charge.
After all, the vineyard does not belong to us. We are only the workers. The real owner is God, who will always take care of us.