More Equal

Read the Bible Passage:  Matthew 20:1-16

In this very interesting parable of Jesus, there are laborers who start the day and work hard all day.  There are laborers who come later in the day and work hard.  And there are laborers who come at the end of the day.  All the laborers are paid the same wages.   This hardly seems fair.  It seems the lesson to be learned for the cleverest among us is simple — show up late and enjoy the same benefits.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the lesson Jesus has in mind.

The parable does make it clear that the laborers who began the day early were paid what they were promised.  They were paid the wages they had agreed to.  What was surely upsetting to them was that in relative terms they didn’t make more that those who did not work as long.  They were paid equally to the others, they just wanted to be more equal.

What is the lesson Jesus has in mind?  What is the problem this parable is trying to address?

Most likely in historic terms, Matthew the gospel writer is trying to address a problem concerning those who have been faithful to God for generations receiving the same grace as those who are newcomers to the faith.

In contemporary terms, a problem the parable can address is what I call competition for causes.  Each day the news reports one disaster after another.  Each day the number of crises and urgent matters that need our attention proliferate and jostle for our attention.  You may be like me and find your mail, email, texts, overflowing with things begging for us to respond.  I can’t respond to them all, none of us can. I am tempted to just go numb, just to avoid being overwhelmed.  It seems the lesson to be learned for the cleverest among us is simple—just ignore it all.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the lesson Jesus has in mind.

The problems of the world are indeed many.  We cannot give them equal attention.  We can only do what we can do.  Like the laborers in the parable, we are not called to do more than what has been given to us.  We are not called to fix it all.  We are called to do what we can.  In the parable, the grumbling laborers are reminded that the vineyard owner asked them to do a task and no more.  We are asked to do the tasks we can do and no more.

But what are we to do about the problems that others are not adequately addressing, what are we do to with those who aren’t working hard enough, what are we to do?

Here is the rub, we cannot control what we cannot control.  Even if we want to control everything.  We can’t.  What we can do, is remember that we may enjoy the world, we may work in the world, but we cannot save the world.  It is not ours to save.  The world is God’s and as difficult as it is to trust God to save the world, we must and can.  God is trustworthy and can be trusted.  This by no means we should just roll over and say it is all in God’s hands and there is nothing for us to do.  Far from it.  What remains is for us to do what we can, when we can, to the best of our ability.  But we should know, in all humility, that we can never do enough.  We truly must have faith in God.


O God we want so much to control things.  We so dislike not being able to control things.  Give us the patience to trust you.  Give us the faith to rely on you.  Give us strength to do what we can.  O God, give us your grace — a love undeserved, never earned, out of our control, but faithfully granted time and time again by you.