“What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
From Sunday’s Gospel Matthew 20:1-16a
It must be tough being a parent of several children who are always so unique and at times even quite opposite in personality and disposition. Children hold their parents to the standard of being fair – if one sibling got a certain type of birthday gift, then the other is expected to receive something of similar worth. The poor parent whose child feels they received less than what they deserved! They will certainly hear about it. In many ways, we as adults, harbor the same attitudes we developed as children. We often compare ourselves to others and do not want others to receive what we perceive to be preferential treatment. In today’s Gospel God’s generosity upsets the workers who arrived earlier than those who took the last shift because they were paid as much as the others despite their only working a fraction of their coworkers' time.
The quote above hits the crux of the matter: are we envious because God is generous? In the parable the owner of the business paid the workers who arrived in the first shift a just wage. The issue is that they did not want those working fewer hours to receive what they had received. Yet the owner is looking at the situation with a broader lens – each probably has a family to support and could desperately use the full day’s wage. It someone is justly compensated, why should they be upset with what another received?
The truth is we are incredibly competitive in nature and even at times stingy. Yet this is not who our God is. As we hear in the first reading, from Isaiah 55:6-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Let us be glad that our God is a generous God; may we rejoice when others prosper and have their needs met as we seek to imitate the benevolence of our loving God.