How is This Fair? – Matthew 20
I was a waitress all throughout college, waiting tables at Friendly’s (a quick shout-out to the Fribble!), Cracker Barrel (hooray for biscuits with your meal), and TGI Fridays (back when each of us wore a ridiculous hat and 15+ pieces of flair).
We had a good camaraderie among the waitstaff, and I loved my jobs serving ice cream, sandwiches, pancakes, and the occasional Oreo Madness. But we were also keenly aware of the system of justice and fairness in the food transportation industry.
There was a rotating system, a moving ramekin on the hostess’s seating chart, to make sure each server had equal turns with new guests in the restaurant. Some of it was luck of the draw: if it was your turn when two old ladies came in for an afternoon tea, then you missed out on the next guests: a party of ten – five young couples, all probably double-incomes-no-kids, fully expecting to eat much and tip generously.
There were no promises of a good night, and I confess that there were many nights when I envied the servers who had more tables, bigger parties, or just a prettier smile than I had that night, and they were leaving with way more cash.
I read this parable of the vineyard workers, and sadly, I can relate to the grumbling workers at the end of the day. What? You mean to say that they, the ones who arrived just an hour ago, get to leave with the same amount you gave us? How is this fair? How is it reasonable? Where is the justice?!”
The thing is, though, nobody was cheated. Not a single employee was underpaid. While our economics might argue that the late-comers were overpaid, the landowner had the choice to pay them whatever he chose. And he chose to give them the same wages he had given everyone else, because he operated on no ordinary human accounting.
In his storytelling, it is like Jesus said to Peter and the others, “You are privileged to be here, to have come early, to spend your days with me. Others will come into the kingdom later, but they will matter to me as much as you do. There will be no elite guests at my table, and everyone will be a guest of honor.”
In What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey wrote, “God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell.”
There are some who live long, full lives, with all of their goals met, and all of their tasks complete. Still, there are others who die young – far too soon, we say – with so much left undone, so many years taken from them. But the truth is, Jesus waits for each of us to arrive, and no life is too short or too long.
Warren Berkley says it best: “It is not merely the time that we put in. It is the heart that we put into the time that we have.”
That’s a promise I can take to the bank.
Tricia Lott Williford’s great loves are teaching, writing, and her two young sons, Tucker and Tyler. She collects books, words, and bracelets, and she pushes the boundaries of ‘widowed, single mom.’ Tricia speaks at events and retreats all over the country, and she writes daily on her blog, TriciaLottWilliford.com.