It is springtime now, although the weather doesn’t quite feel like it. With spring, comes spring cleaning — and I will tell you, my garage needs it. This not being one of my favorite tasks, I asked one of my sons if he would mind taking some time to put the Christmas lights away, break down the cardboard boxes, straighten up the work bench, sweep the floor and so on. We negotiate a fair amount for this work to be completed — $20, and away he goes. One less task I have to worry about.
Halfway through the day my older son stops by for a visit and decides to help out with the garage — mainly because he wanted to borrow some tools. After a few hours, they are both sitting in the family room watching the March Madness tournament. I go to inspect the garage and to my surprise it was done, and they had done a great job! I return to the living room and gave them each $20.00.
My older son was grateful to receive anything, as there had been no expectation. However, my younger son whom I had asked to clean the garage, and with whom I had ‘contracted’ for the same price, didn’t seem so happy. Later that day, when I asked him why he was upset, he told me that he didn’t think it was fair that I had paid his older brother the same amount for only doing half the amount of work.
This could not be any closer to Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner in Matthew 20:1-16, an intriguing story that is very counter- culture to the way things are in the world today. But then aren’t most of the Bible’s teachings?
The vineyard owner secures people to work his fields at four different times throughout the day. At day’s end, he pays them all the same wage, paying those who came to the field last, first, and the first that came to the field, last. The people that started in the morning, however, felt that they had been cheated since they had worked in the hot sun all day. Surely their efforts were worth more than those who had started late in the day, working only one hour, and making equal pay? After hearing their grievances, the owner reminds them that he had paid what they agreed upon, when hired. Should he choose to pay the others the same, is that not his right? After all it is his money. He asks them, “Should you be jealous, because I am kind to others?” (vs 15) as he made the last first and the first last.
Although the early morning workers who had worked a full day felt cheated, they had agreed upon a wage with the owner. And, the owner did not take money away from them to pay those who came later. Rather, he generously gave the late starters what he desired to give them.
The early workers’ concern about what the others had received speaks to God’s 10th commandment: “You must not covet…” (Exodus 20:17). As Christians, we are to be thankful and content with the blessings that we have been given — not envious of what has been given to others, or concerned with the why and the how. This includes the grace, forgiveness and blessings that God generously extends to those whom He loves, which are His to freely give however He chooses. Something as small as a day’s wage, or payment for cleaning a garage, can escalate into resentment, anger, and hate if we covet what others have.
As for my son, he understands that he shouldn’t be concerned about what others have or receive, but he still thinks that his effort was worth more than $20.00. I told him that is a lesson in negotiation.
“We foolishly make a pretense of turning over the keys but keep back an extra set just in case we need to take control again at some point in the future.”
Desiring God’s Will by David G. Benner
By Ken Hastie, FCA Coach and Volunteer