Last night I was thinking about the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Some of the laborers work and work and work all day long, and at the end of the day they are paid the typical day's wages - others are hired at the end of the day, and they, too, receive the full day's wages. Those who worked all day grumble and question the landowner - why are our wages the same as those of they who worked only one hour when we toiled all day long? The landowner, somewhat shockingly, replies,
"Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?" Matthew 20:13-15.What a challenge to our hearts and minds - especially those of us who live in the capitalistic American meritocracy where we earn our success and our worth. We glory in working 50 hour weeks and getting paid overtime and raking in those bonuses. Our culture values hard work. We get what we deserve in this country, or at least we think we do. Now, I could comment on the dangers of working too hard, to the point that any room for stillness and silent communication with God who rests in the truest parts of our selves gets lost in the to-do lists. Stop and smell the roses, some would say.
This particular passage, however, asks us to transform our vision of merit. I'm not saying that our culture shouldn't value hard work, but we who labor in the American vineyard have a tendency to work and work and work and expect adequate payment. For everything we do. Even spiritual matters. If I pray for this many minutes a day, so and so many times a week, I should expect my spiritual growth to increase at a corresponding monthly output. If we work hard, or pray hard in this case, we should be rewarded for it. And we will be, in whatever way God sees fit. Frustrating? Sometimes, yes, but the more challenging part of the parable, at least for me, comes in reconciling the fact that those who do less than half the work receive the same reward. We are challenged here to recognize that we cannot earn God's love at all - we don't have to - it is freely given. It isn't about who works, or prays, the most. We need to extricate the idea of earning from our spiritual vocabulary because no matter how hard we try to find one, there isn't a formula for grace.