September 24, 2017 — Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Rev. Alison Quin
It’s Not a Competition… It’s a Party
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about a clash in world views—our perspective vs. God’s perspective.
Our perspective: Survival is our #1 priority. The owner offers work to groups of laborers throughout the day and they all accept because they need to work to survive. The first group negotiates for the usual daily wage. The next two groups don’t negotiate—they just accept the owner’s offer to pay them whatever is right. The last group just accepts the job with no mention of what they will be paid. As the workers get more desperate, they have to trust the owner more.
But all are united by the need to survive. That is a primal instinct for all of us.
Then a second concern arises as the first group of laborers, the ones who have been working all day in the blazing heat, realize that they are being paid the same as those who only worked for one hour.
Their response is very human—I suspect we can all identify with it. IT’S NOT FAIR!!!!
Now the issue is no longer survival—it is competition and comparison? How am I doing compared to the next guy?
There is a positive side of competition and comparison—it can spur us to do our best. I’m always checking out other churches to see what they are doing well, so that I can learn from them. I’m always paying attention to people I admire to see what I can learn from them.
That’s the healthy part of competition—we learn from each other and are motivated by each other.
But our egos can easily go down an unhealthy path.
We can give in to fear: “What if there isn’t enough to go around (not enough work, money, success, achievement, love)? What if I don’t get my share?”
We can start to feel entitled: “I’ve worked hard. I deserve this.”
Then we try to control the outcome: “I’m going to make sure I get what I need and want.”
We become attached: “I need this (whatever it might be) in order to feel worthy.”
The problem with the striving ego is that it is never be satisfied. And its endless demands give rise to envy—there will always be someone with more of what we want, or someone who seems to have obtained it with much less effort.
Envy corrodes relationships. And it is fertile ground for sin as the story of Cain and Abel indicates. God happened to prefer Abel’s offering of meat to Cain’s offering of grain. Cain got so enraged that he killed Abel.
This parable takes us right to the heart of the matter: living a life centered on the ego leads to envy. Envy is destructive and can escalate into violence.
The owner of the vineyard, who represents God, responds to the laborers’ complaint by saying, “Didn’t I give you what we agreed on? Can’t I do what I want to with what is mine? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
The Greek is literally, “Is your eye evil because I am generous?”
The evil eye signified having an evil intention toward someone, which was considered dangerous because it could so easily lead to evil actions.
The owner in the parable clearly had entirely different concerns from the workers. He was not worried about getting ahead or achieving or he wouldn’t have agreed to pay people who worked for one hour the same wage as those who worked all day. He doesn’t seem concerned with his reputation or the approval of others either.
His priority seems to be bringing everyone into the vineyard, and making sure they all get what they need. That’s a good description of God—God wants all of us to know we are included and loved. God wants all of our gifts, whatever they are. And God wants to give us everything we need—not just what we need to survive physically, but the grace and love that we need to become whole. God doesn’t ask or care if we have deserve grace. God just gives it to us out of God’s generosity and unending love for each of us.
This parable is an invitation to shift our worldview to God’s worldview. We are invited to move beyond our ego’s insistent demands which are impossible to fulfill, and can lead to fractured relationships.
We do that by contemplating God’s unconditional love for us and growing in trust and intimacy with God. As we grow in the knowledge of God’s love for us, we no longer have to live at the level of the ego, with all its fears and restless striving. The more we contemplate God’s love, the more we can live from the center of our being and our perspective shifts—entitlement and envy give way to gratitude and generosity of spirit.
The more aware we are of God’s love, the more we can see the world from God’s perspective, and join God in longing for everyone to be included, and everyone to have what they need and desire.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like—a generous God is extending the invitation to everyone, and offering love and grace to everyone. Come in, bring everyone you know, and join the celebration! It’s not a competition, it’s a party.