When We Think The Universe Owes Us
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off. (And) he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner,
saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go. 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.”
I naturally would feel for those who worked in the first hour in the landowner’s vineyard. It is natural to ask for remuneration commensurate to our work. At first glance, the landowner seems unfair in giving everyone the same wage. Those who came first worked the most.
I’ve tasted for myself how to work the land. In 2008 our Summer Camp was held in Victorias where we had the chance to experience working in an hacienda, working among the famous sugar canes of Negros. It was damn hard. You have to sweat it out, break your back, and bend down to the earth. Such experience taught me the value of work and hard earned money. It taught me values of simplicity, hard work, and faith.
But the message of the Gospel is not about proportionate wages or justice. When we think the universe owes us for everything we have gone through we forget that it has been long existing before we came and it would go on its existence with or without us. The fact is our existence, no matter how difficult and tragic, is grace and gift.
We all learn that life is unfair. But that is the vision of unbelieving eyes. Life is a big stage and we are all actors in it. Some are given big roles, some smaller, still some supporting roles. But the characters that we live in all grow according to the story. Each has a story that is in itself beautiful and mysterious, unique and unrepeatable. God’s generosity is His act of dedicating Himself to each one, like a gardener tending each seedling, His grace commensurate to the needs of each soul. Our sense of justice is simply different than God’s.
To demand from God that we be rewarded more because we’ve lived life better than others is a selfish act. One has focused more on one’s effort than the grace of God that has made possible such effort. Salvation is not a competition. It is blind to the fact that we are all beggars before God, all broken and wilted before the great Gardener, all unfinished tales before the great Playwright.
So the Kingdom of Heaven is all about God’s will that we all be in it. He wants all His children in. He wants all His vines to bear fruit. He wants all characters to develop. And He works on each one, meticulously following them up in their ups and downs, trimming and fertilizing wherever it is needed. His grace envelopes all. His mercy pours out to those who need it most.
Working it out in life? Yes, it’s difficult. But know that reward (more than wage) is not gained by the workers but freely given by the landowner.