Yesterday we tackled the parable of the landowner who hired workers at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon and dinner time, to work in his vineyard and then he paid them all the same amount (Matthew 20:1-16). Hmm… I’ve heard that this is the most disliked parable in the Gospels, and I can see why.
(For the full video version, click here.)
It is tough because this parable seems innately unfair. It is an unrealistic social story that tries to point out a spiritual truth about each person’s relationship with the Divine, but we get hung up and don’t understand it because we over-identify with that first laborer who toiled all day in the blistering heat and got paid the same as the last guy who started at 5 p.m.
It reminds me of when I was a kid. I had to wait until my brother (who was three-years younger) was old enough to ski before I could learn myself. And I had to wait until I was 12 to get a camera, but then he got one at the same time. It just wasn’t fair. I wanted him to have to wait like I did to receive those opportunities!
Perhaps it would help to know that right before this parable, Peter, Jesus’ top disciple, says to Jesus (basically), “Hey, we all left everything that we have to follow you… what exactly are we getting out of this?” And Jesus reassures him that of course they will all be taken care of and rewarded. But there is something about having to reassure Peter of his “reward” that rubs the author of Matthew the wrong way. It just doesn’t fit the model of laboring in God’s vineyard where all people are treated equally. So, the parable attempts to explain what Peter didn’t quite get.
In our world, we compare ourselves to others to make sure we aren’t being cheated, taken advantage of or treated unfairly. But the parable reminds us that the world of comparative thinking does not work when dealing with spiritual reality. On a spiritual level we need a different thought process that does not put us at the center of the universe…nope, not all about us.
If we remember that this parable says “the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” It is meant to describe the kingdom of heaven. And if we remember that Jesus told us that the kingdom of heaven is within, that it’s a spiritual state of being, then we have to recognize that the landowner represents the qualities and characteristics of the kingdom of heaven. The landowner (aka God) is generous, loved unconditionally, treated people equally with caring, compassion, and grace. The landowner lived with a sense of abundance.
God doesn’t look at each of us to judge who did more, made more of a difference, because we are now in the consciousness of the kingdom of heaven, not, as John Shea says, in the consciousness of “Comparative Status” or “Fear of Not Getting What You Deserve.” Those states of consciousness are of this world, and they are awfully hard to get out of our brains.
Most of the time we’re not even thinking about the fact that there is a larger reality that permeates all parts of our lives (physical, mental, emotional, social). The Divine continually presents us with opportunities to learn and grow spiritually by volunteering, reaching out to someone, standing for justice, giving of ourselves and what we have, studying or worshiping, etc. Whether we do something huge or something small, it matters not. The reward is the same – a day’s wages, which echoes the concept of our “daily bread.” It is all we need for the day: sustenance, love, caring, abundance, equality, compassion, purpose.
It makes perfect sense to me that the energy of the Divine does not operate on monetary (how silly would that be) rewards, or any other rewards.
This parable is actually an extended answer to Peter, “Really, Peter, I’m grateful for all you’ve done, but in the eyes of the Divine you’re no better than anyone else.” God, being God, will give everyone all that God has. There is no option. God can’t be stingy or judgmental or punishing, those words aren’t anywhere in the definition of God.
The hope would be that we’d chill out on our own competitive spirits, and embrace the concept that God doesn’t have favorites. God’s love encompasses and gives equally to all.
Love & Light!