What do we mean when we say we deserve something? Don’t we mean that we have somehow earned it or that we are entitled to it because of our hard work and efforts?
And how do we feel when we do not get what we think we deserve? Don’t we feel angry and hurt? Don’t we feel as if our rights have been trampled on and that we have been disrespected?
Then we can completely understand the anger of the worker’s in Jesus’ parable. They felt they were entitled to more pay because they had worked longer hours. Unlike the laborers who had shown up at the last minute, they made an effort to show up early at the marketplace so that they would be hired first and be able to earn a whole day’s pay. They were not asking for a hand out. They simply wanted what they thought they deserved for the labor they put in.
All of us can feel sympathy with these workers. We have all been in situations in which we thought we were being taken advantage of or when we felt we had gotten the short end of the stick.
It is natural for us to get frustrated with others when we feel we have not received what we deserve. But are there ever times when we feel that same anger and frustration with God? Are there ever times when we think we deserved a better life than the one God gave us? Are there times when the burdens of life weigh so heavily upon us that we ask, “Why me, Lord? What did I ever do to deserve so much heartache?”
When it comes to our relationship with others, it is possible that we do not always receive what we are entitled to. But we can never make the same claim as regards our relationship with God. When it comes right down to it, God does not owe us anything. Who here today is so important that he or she deserved to even be born? Who here is so good that he or she deserves to go to heaven? Who here today has lived such a virtuous life and performed so many good deeds that he or she deserves a seat in the Kingdom of God? No one. If such a thing were possible, Jesus would not have had to die on the cross for us.
The fact is that we are all beggars before our Almighty God. Everything we have and everything we are is his gift to us. It may not always seem as though we have enough. It may be painfully clear to us how small and weak we are. But each of us has more than enough to accomplish God’s plan for our life. He never fails to provide us with whatever we need when we need it. It may seem that we could do better things for God if we had more resources or were more talented, but we have just what we need to live the life He has set out for us.
It is a very subtle trick of the Devil to try to convince us that we deserve more than God has given us. He succeeded in convincing Adam and Eve that all the delights of Paradise were not good enough. They had to have the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. He also convinced the Israelites in the desert that they would have been better off if they had remained slaves in Egypt. So they rebelled against God by worshipping a golden calf. He tried to pull the same trick on Jesus telling Him to provide bread for Himself because God had abandoned Him. But Jesus saw through it proclaiming that what God gave Him was all that He needed, for it is not be bread alone that we live but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. The Devil works hard to do the same to us - to try to convince us that God somehow is holding back from us and that we cannot trust Him.
Brothers and sisters, if we are going to make any progress at all in the spiritual life we have to stop complaining, stop bickering and begin being grateful for what we have. Even if it does not seem like much, everything we have is a gift from a good and generous God. In all things, we need to thank our Heavenly Father. Even if it is just for the fact that we have lived to see one more day, we must praise God.
Life can be difficult and challenging. There are many times when our suffering gets the best of us and we lose hope. But God has a plan for our lives. He sees the big picture. What seems like a crushing humiliation for us today or an impossibly heavy burden is God’s way of preparing a great blessing for us. He knows what He is doing. It may not make sense to us now, but there will come a day in the not too distant future when we will look back and be able to see why things turned out the way they did in our lives. Then we will be grateful. For now we can only accept what God gives us - both the good and the bad - in complete trust that “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.” But He will make all things work for the good for those who love Him.
It is true that God does not treat us as we deserve. Because of our sins, we deserve judgement and punishment, but in His goodness He sent His only Son, the sinless One, to die in our place. We deserve to be imprisoned in slavery to sin, but He has opened the treasury in Heaven to shower us with grace upon grace so that we can know the truth and live it with joy. There is only one way that God knows how to treat us - with mercy, love and lavish generosity.
We gather here today to celebrate that love and to commit ourselves to work in His vineyard and to be grateful for however much He deigns to give us.