Kolar: We don’t have the right to be jealous
"God’s generosity is beyond our comprehension of fairness. And we should be grateful. As an old Newsboy’s song puts it: when we don’t get what we deserve, that’s a real good thing," writes Janel Kolar.
Matthew 20:9-14 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.
Many years ago, I preached a sermon on this scripture reading and an out-of-town visitor told me “I’ve never really liked that parable. I understand that it’s about long-term Christians and new Christians receiving the same blessings from God, but I guess I’m one of the selfish ones who thinks it’s unfair that the latecomers have the same reward as those who worked hard longer.” (paraphrased).
A few months later, her mother was diagnosed with a fast-moving terminal cancer. This beautiful lady had been faithfully present in worship, but confessed she had never been baptized and the idea of dying without baptism scared her. So of course, she received the sacrament of baptism.
As we prayed with her and sat with her the next few weeks, she was at peace and her daughter and I had some time to talk. She told me that on the day we baptized her mother, she finally understood the parable. “It gave my Mom so much peace to have that blessing – as much peace as anyone who had been baptized even as an infant. In fact, I think she appreciated it more than most of us do.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
She received the words and water of baptism with a much greater understanding of their blessing than most of us do. It was something that had been weighing on her for years, but she had waited until the last month of her life to ask for the water of redemption. It isn’t uncommon for people who are dying to understand their need to be part of God’s community. Even the crustiest and crudest among us start to understand the need for God when they are faced with their mortality. We could hold them in contempt – frown at God’s fair treatment of the sinner who makes a last minute request to be saved. But that certainly flies in the face of this parable and many others Jesus told. We don’t have the right to be jealous when God gives peace, blessings and love to the johnny-come-lately folk.
God’s generosity is beyond our comprehension of fairness. And we should be grateful. As an old Newsboy’s song puts it: when we don’t get what we deserve, that’s a real good thing; when we get what we don’t deserve, that’s a real good thing. Good for us, good for “them”, good for all of God’s people. Let’s rejoice with those who come into the workforce a little late, and give thanks that they let God bring them in, no matter what stage of life that might occur.