“Location, location, location…” Do you get it? Location is important, in purchasing a house, selecting seats for the symphony, a play, the opera, the ballet, or especially Lambeau Field. Location gives others a clue as to your status, your place in the world.
In Jesus’ parables, people unconsciously will identify with an appealing character. I heard you say a moment ago, “Praise to you, Lord Christ” at the end of the gospel – after hearing Jesus say the last come out on top – really? Does it work that way? Too bad the Brewers must be thinking Jesus is speaking to them these recent weeks. In this world, if you’re last, you’re through. Get it?
People who work all day in the hot sun, only to learn they get the same pay as those who worked for only an hour don’t like Jesus’ surprise endings. Parables don’t always bring “tidings of great joy to all the people.” It depends on where you are located.
A retired business owner once ambushed me after a mass. It must have been the first time he’d heard this parable: “You shouldn’t be preaching that stuff. You can’t run a business that way. You only get paid for what you work. No show – no pay.” “You’re right,” I said, “I guess you’d run out of money if you dither it away so foolishly.” “Well, what’s the point of the story? I don’t get it.” “Me either.” “What do you mean you don’t get it?” “I don’t get why God or the landowner would act so recklessly. Whoever works hard, arrives on time, there for a full day, should get more than a goof-off who arrives late. Is this what on earth as in heaven looks like? To God, it’s grace – and freely given regardless. And you’re right it –it doesn’t seem fair or make sense, until you need it.” Location, location, location.
Location – if we locate ourselves with the 12-hour workers in the vineyard, we understand why they’d grumble. What’s grace for some can be judgment for others, especially if we compare our situation to theirs. “Friend, what wrong am I doing you? I said you’d get a fair wage, and you agreed. Take what’s yours and go. I give what belongs to me to whomever I choose.” Would we ever object to God being generous to those we think don’t think deserve it?
In the church where I grew up, I got the idea you really didn’t want to be in that 5pm group. People were expected to pull their weight, show up, and support the church, which was the same as supporting God. After all, even though the parable says nothing about heaven or hell, goofing-off won’t get you to heaven. So we worked hard, read the Bible, prayed, gave our money, and sang in Youth Choir. No free lunches at our church. Plus thinking we’re doing a lot for God lifts our religious self-esteem to the high heavens. But one day it dawned on me, “In Jesus’ parable everyone gets the same at the end of the day, regardless of how much they worked.” Then I wondered: “Do I really want to count on my work product as the basis of what I receive, or can I get happy that God gives grace to us all?” But does that make sense?
Well, it probably won’t make a lot of sense until we need to stand in the grace line. Jesus’ ego-bursting barb breaks through: “Do you begrudge my generosity?” “Honestly, yes, Lord, I hate to admit it. Sometimes I do. Wow-what did I just say? Excuse me; I think I just got it. Could I have a second helping of grace, please?” Kuching!
If you ever hear someone say, “God’s not fair,” agree. God isn’t. If God were fair and just, we’d get what we earn and deserve. Then we’d all be in trouble. God is no bookkeeper measuring our worthiness. God is a lover, delighting to lift us all – because we need it. In this story, all the workers need a break. It’s called grace, freely given – especially for those whose hope is about to run out at day’s end – and one day the grumblers will get it, too. That’s what happens when grace gets hold of you. We get as giddy as God when we see the world and others as God does. God gives grace to all, because God is good – not because we are. And remember, some may not have work because they’re under or over qualified – they can’t get it. They can use a little more grace.
Location – one thing seems clear: we are not the landowners here, even if we own land. God is and God does the choosing, and chooses to bless all – winners and losers alike. In Jesus’ parables, winners will grumble about it, and expose what lurks in their hearts. And it’s not so pretty exposed to the light of grace.
What if we locate ourselves with the landowner? What would the world be like if we acted more like the landowner? What would we need to change to do that? Does God want us to be concerned with fair wages, or establishing a society where people do more than exist? God is consistently concerned with these matters throughout scripture. Do I have more than I need when others have little or nothing? Does God’s generosity move us to do anything differently? Could we share the grace God gives better?
Jesus isn’t teaching anything new. It’s old stuff. God’s been at it from Genesis’ opening pages – always loving, faithful, and generous. God hopes we’ll catch on. This time, though, in Jesus God shows us up so we can see and experience grace. May those who have ears hear. Location – location – location: Now, where are you located with this crazy in love, grace-giving God?