It isn’t fair!
How many times have we heard those words on the lips of children after they have been punished? How many times have we seen those words on the placards of protesters marching for better conditions and equal treatment for workers? Or how many times have we said those words ourselves when we received a grade on a test that we did not believe we deserved or were passed over for a promotion at work?
The thought, “it isn’t fair”, may have also crossed our mind when we heard the parable of Jesus in today’s gospel.
How we hear Jesus’ words and how we react to them has much to tell us about how we understand ourselves and our relationship to God.
If we heard the parable thinking that the landowner treated his workers unfairly, it could be that we think that God has not been fair with us. We may think that we have just had too many obstacles placed in our way to ever experience true joy and happiness in life. Perhaps we have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances or experienced illness ourselves. God has seemed to be there to help other people, why has He not helped me? Other people credit their faith with helping them through tough times, why do I feel alone? Like the workers in the parable, we feel shortchanged and unappreciated.
However, there is another way to hear the parable. Instead of identifying with the workers who labored all day, we could sympathize with those who worked only part of the day. We realize that God has been exceedingly generous with us. Though we have made many bad choices in life, our Heavenly Father has always provided for us. Because of His great love, we have come to depend on His mercy and generosity. Though we experience the same difficulties and tragedies that others do, we face them with a sense of confidence knowing God will continue to provide for us. Rather than feel punished, ignored or unappreciated by Him, we feel uplifted, protected and strengthened. Like the workers who only labored part of the day, we understand that we are only humble servants who are happy with whatever God chooses to give us.
Which category of people do we most resemble? If we are honest, we are most likely a mixture of both attitudes.
As we reflect on Jesus’ parables, let us ask ourselves, “What can we do to be more like the second group of people?”
The first way is to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. God showers us with so many blessings and gifts that it is easy to take them all for granted. Beauty surrounds us in nature and in other people. On top of that, we have the gift of sight to be able to enjoy them. When we take a second to appreciate it and thank God for it, we begin to realize how richly blessed we are. If we take it a step further, we can even thank God for the challenges we face. Rather than blame Him for everything difficult in our lives, we can turn to Him in trust saying, “Lord, I know that you will eventually provide for me” or, “Father, I trust you to bring good out of this bad situation.” Doing so will give us peace when we are feeling insecure.
Giving thanks in all circumstances combats a spirit of entitlement that is so common to our society. When we feel entitled, we believe that we deserve whatever we want. Every time we do some good work or put out the slightest effort, we believe that someone should give us a medal for it. Such an attitude can lead only to frustration, bitterness and conflict. When we are driven by an attitude of entitlement, we can never experience happiness because, like the workers in the parable, no matter what we have we will always feel cheated. We can never be the thankful and joyful people that Jesus challenges us to be in today’s parable.
The second attitude to cultivate is generosity. When we are thankful for all that God has given us, it is natural that we will want to share it with others. We will never understand why our Heavenly Father has given more of the earth’s goods to some people rather than others, but we can even things out by donating to charities or helping those in need. If we do not have many material blessings, then we can share our faith by praying for the sick, visiting prisoners or comforting those who are lonely. Faith is the greatest of God’s blessings and we never do so much good as when we share it with the lost, the lonely and the afraid.
In a particular way, we imitate God’s generosity when we share what we have with those who do not seem to deserve it. We do that when we forgive those who harm us even when they do not show any remorse. We reflect God’s mercy when we are kind to those who gossip about us behind our backs and refuse to say a bad word about them. When we help beggars on the street even though we do not know what they will do with what we give them, we are imitating God who showers His blessings on us even though we so often abuse them. Unlike God, we can never know what is going on in another person’s heart. We can never know what he or she is struggling with. However, like God, we can decide to always be generous even when we are unsure the person deserves it or even when the cost seems high.
It is true that there are many times we feel cheated by God. Sometimes the burdens of life seem to outweigh the blessings. However, everything we have comes from Him including our very life and being. So often we offend our Heavenly Father by not noticing the beauty and goodness all around us and daring to act as if it were not enough. By cultivating a spirit of gratitude and generosity we can be like the workers in the parable who were elated with the pay they received knowing that it was more than they deserved. We can also translate that gratitude and generosity into concrete action by sharing what we have with others and treating them gently and mercifully. Then the Kingdom of God which Jesus came to bring will be more of a reality in our lives and in our world.