“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:15-16
The above verses ended yesterday’s Gospel reading. They just keep swimming around in my head, like Scripture sometimes will. Jesus was telling the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Some showed up to work early in the day, some showed up in the middle of the day, some showed up to work at the last minute and they all received the same wage.
Whenever I read this passage with teenagers, I always stop before we get to verses 15 and 16 and I ask them: “Do you think it’s fair that they all got the same wage?” I don’t mean to ask a trick question, but it turns out that way. Teenagers always say yes, it’s fair. When I prod them and they think about it for a moment, they realize that no, it’s not fair.
By the way, children almost always answer “no” when I ask them the is it fair question. Children are pretty good at picking up on what’s not fair–and if you work with children, you hear the words “that’s not fair!” a lot.
It’s not fair, but that’s the point of the story. A good parent line (one that my parents used and i find myself using from time to time) is “Well, life’s not fair!” As difficult as it is to hear as a child, the reality is that life is simply not fair and that never changes.
So verses 15 and 16 are familiar verses to me, and I thought I had made peace with the point of the story–that God can be generous however God chooses–but when I read them yesterday morning, they resonated with me in a new way. Am I envious because God is generous?
If you ask me to affirm that God gave each of us our own talents and gifts, I will. But then I’ll wish I had gifts and talents like yours instead of the ones that God gave me. Or I’ll sit in prayer group with my colleagues in ministry and wish our church did something like that or that I was gifted for ministry like they are. Or I’ll wonder why I can’t have curly hair or long fingers or high cheekbones or whatever. Or I wonder why God makes life so easy for people who are up to no good and so hard for me and for friends.
When I was in Cincinnati, one theme that rang out for me was that God made me who God made me. That God gave me as a gift to the world and when I’m not me, I’m not being the gift God created. When I am spending time and energy trying to be someone else or have someone else’s gifts, I’m not living out my calling. When I spending time looking around at what everyone else is doing and feeling jealous of where they are and what they have, I’m distracted from the things I am called to do.
I am envious because God is generous. God has generously blessed you with gifts and talents that God did not intend me to have or to try to have.
It’s a lesson I’m still learning.
May we all know the gifts and talents God has put in each of our lives and use them completely.