By Rev’d Phil Wales
I still remember a time, decades ago now, when my mother accidently created momentary havoc in our family by a very simple oversight. She had forgotten which one of her four tiny children was to use the ‘special’ spoon one lunchtime. The result? The spoon and its intended owner found themselves at opposite ends of the dining table that day.
As you may have guessed by now, the item of cutlery in question differed from the others in those kinds of ways in which very small children are so good at noticing and lock away in their hearts. Though barely perceptible these differences made a world of difference to my brothers, my sister and me. Because of this simple mishap, all our thoughts of enjoying our food were overwhelmed by shouts of “it’s not fair”. Tears flowed from the little person whose turn it should have been to delight in holding the treasured utensil. Their tears then prompted many more from their siblings in sympathy with either the true owner or the accidental beneficiary as the spoon switched hands. Thankfully, peace was soon restored by our mother’s soothing words.
Perhaps more often than we might care to admit, our attitudes and so our actions flow from a deep-seated fear of missing out (FOMO), of not getting enough of what we think is rightfully ours, or from envy of others’ good fortune. Contrast these fears and jealousies with what Jesus teaches us about God’s gift of love. The story of the workers in the vineyard, for example, is a powerful illustration in which Jesus also offers us a mirror so that we can take a look, if we choose, at our vulnerabilities.
In the story, a vineyard owner takes on workers at different points during the day to help with the harvest. He promises the first group hired early in the morning that they will be rewarded fairly. More workers are then recruited in stages throughout the day. Surprisingly, at the end of the day’s work, irrespective of the amount of work done, they each receive the same pay. Though it’s made clear that no agreement between employer and employees had been broken we almost instinctively find ourselves becoming indignant on behalf of those who worked the longest.
The parable illuminates our strongly held beliefs that rewards should be equal to service given and that we will be rewarded according to what we think we deserve. Jesus challenges our everyday notions about fairness and justice and points to a deeper truth about the abundance of God’s love which is not ours to demand or direct. We see too that although God’s love is never in short supply, the temptations of envy and schadenfreude continually try to undermine our joy.
Jesus’ story about God’s Kingdom invites us to look deep within ourselves so that we can let go of things long held that get in the way of our embracing his love. And the result of this self-examination and fresh insight? One possibility may be that the more we set aside our fear and envy the more we come to feel the limitless nature of Christ’s love, not just for ourselves but for everyone, and then rejoice in this realisation.