Have you heard of “First World Problems” before? I bet you have. Those are the issues that people complain and even while about which, in the broader overview of things, aren’t really that big of a deal. Things like “Dad, you got me the wrong color of iPhone for Christmas!” Or, “I really hate it when there’s too much pepperoni on my pizza.”
When someone tells me about how their pizza had too much meat on it, I have a go-to response. I put a knowing smile on my face, and with just the tiniest hint of condescension, I reply, “I know, that must be so hard for you, especially after having to spend that 14 hour shift in the coal mine….” That gets adapted, of course, for each various circumstance.
Now, there are probably better – and more Christian – ways to get the same point across, But it effectively makes the person realize that whatever their complain it, it is in actuality not all that terrible after all.
The Gospel for this particular Sunday seems to perhaps have some laborers who might, in their own way, be complaining about first-world problems. They were hired to do a job, see, and for a certain wage. Then, other labors come in and start work much later in the day. At the end of the day, though, all receive the same wage, regardless of how long any of them were working in the vineyard.
It’s always a bit of a trap to try to explain parables too specifically, to try to map out all the analogies and the who’s-who of the people presented in them. I think it is safe to say, however, that this parable speaks of God’s amazing and generous love for all, and that God’s ways, as we hear elsewhere in scripture, are not our ways, and far beyond our understanding.
Maybe you were a student who had to work and study for long hours just to get the same grade on a test as the student beside you who barely opened his or her textbook. Perhaps you are someone who works in fast-food, and can’t understand why your paycheck each week is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the compensation the head of your company gets. We all long for justice in situations like these and many more, though our understanding of justice must be formed by our faith – and even when it is, it must be tempered by mercy. AND, even when it is all those things, it may still not seem to match up with God’s enacting of boundless love. We need only look to the cross to see how God’s justice, mercy, and love don’t always match what we think they ought to be.
The Kingdom of Heaven Jesus speaks of in this parable – and all the others – is beyond our fullest understanding: this is one of the reasons Jesus speaks of the Reign of God in parables. Yet we are not free to stop pursuing it; rather God calls us to be as giving and prodigious as God over and over again shows us that God is. How will you, today, be generous in the name of God?