Today’s Gospel is not so much about the seeming injustice of the land owner and how he pays his laborers, it is more about the inflated sense of worth that his laborers seem to have. The underlying issue is, “the longer I work, the more pay I should receive or the more value I have. Those who work less than me, should be paid less and have less value than I do.” It all sounds good right? However, we know in the business world of today, there are many violations of this presumption and there are many who work far less hours and get paid a whole lot more than those who do work longer hours.
Perhaps there is something wrong with the premise itself. Should those who work longer hours have more pay and value than those who work less? Well, there are many facets to that question and answer in the business world and I will not presume to know the subtleties of it all.
The story in the Gospel is a parable of course, designed to teach something about God, Heaven and humans. It is not trying to answer employment questions, but it does draw on some of the issues and presumptions of the business world. There is a problem when we try to apply the principles of the world to God and visa versa.
We sometimes fall into the trap of using human concepts of justice on God. God, the landowner in the parable, is not complying with the expectations of the laborers and what they are used to. The ones who work longer believe they are entitled to more pay from God, the landowner. Put another way, if we were to apply the principles that the laborers believe in to God, it would go something like this, the longer I follow God, the more hours I have put into being a follower of God, the more reward I should get. Certainly, I should receive more than those recent converts who have spent but a fraction of their life believing and following God.
God doesn’t see it that way. He sees the same value in those who have lived their whole life following God’s will as much as the most recent convert. How unfair that must seem to the life long believers! Aren’t the long time believers entitled to more of God’s favor? Apparently not. Perhaps it is not a matter of worrying how much I get paid by God, but rather the fact that I get paid at all. Perhaps simply being able to labor for God should be enough reward. Comparing ourselves to others’ value and reward is a waste of time, because God doesn’t care.
Perhaps the laborers should be happy that more people are being hired and have a chance to get paid regardless of how much. Perhaps we should be less worried about other people and what we think we are entitled to from God or anyone else, and be happy when others find their way back to God and are willing to work for him. The minute we begin to compare our relationship with God with other’s relationship with God, we realize that God does not reward, forgive or value the way humans do. God simply wants us all to accept the labor we are given and be rewarded all the same in his presence.
Rev. James Kirby