Jesus is telling his disciples a parable about the kingdom of heaven being like a landowner who employs workers who then take issue with how much the land owner decides to pay each workers. We know this story, but what you might not know is that the verse before it speaks to the first being last and the last being first and as we will soon see it ends with this same message.
Who here has played solitaire? The wonderful card game you can play with only one person. Playing solitaire, I learned how to perfect my shuffle. I now play solitaire on my phone. It is just like we all played with cards, but always available. At first, I was thrilled to simply win the game. I am only competing with myself. But I then discovered that they compare your time and the number of moves it takes to win to the person with the best score online, 2 million people big comparison. I have taken a solitary game and found a way to make comparisons. God help me!!! I have totally given up on the time factor, I will never be fast, but I do want to compare well against the best player. So now even when I win I can be disappointed because it took me 10 to 15 moves more than the best player. Or thrilled when I am only one or two moves off. I could simply celebrate the win, but with this comparison the thrill of winning has soured.
Comparisons often sour. We compare ourselves to our neighbors- who has the best lawn, the best house, the nicer car. We compare titles, education, income. We compare siblings even when parents will never admit to a favorite. We compare ourselves to those who have more than we do. Isn’t interesting how we rarely compare ourselves to those who have less.
A sparrow complained to Mother Nature, “You gave beautiful colors to the peacock and a lovely song to the nightingale, but I am plain and unnoticed. Why was I made to suffer?”
“You were not made to suffer,” stated Mother Nature. “You suffer because you make the same foolish mistake as human beings. You compare yourself with others. Be yourself, for in that there is no comparison and no pain.” (King Duncan, sermons.com)
I ask you, think back to the times you have compared yourself to others. Did those comparisons bring you joy or pain? Even though comparisons often bring us pain we still can’t quite stop comparing.
The workers in the vineyard compared themselves with the workers who arrived later in the day. The first workers had agreed upon a daily wage referred to in scripture as a denarii. And they received that wage. Paid in full. But the newer workers each worked fewer hours, some only worked one hour. The issue came when they discovered that people who worked fewer hours received the exact same wage. The first workers were angry they worked so hard and were greedy in that they expected more than what was promised. All because of comparison. If the landlord had paid the first workers first, then they would have never known what the other workers were making and a comparison could not be made. But this is a parable about God, and about how the last shall be first in the kingdom of heaven.
Comparisons are all about what we think is fair; our sense of justice, what we are entitled to. But here we learn that generosity has not place in comparisons. Generosity messes up the equation and that is why it is so hard for us to understand. In this parable, the landowner represents God who has a generous nature and we are not sure what to do with God’s generosity.
There is always a tension between generosity and justice. We love when we receive God’s grace, part of God’s generosity but we get bent out of shape if someone really bad also receives God’s grace. We want justice to prevail for the bad people, and want to keep God’s grace for ourselves. That is not how God works.
Jonah dealt with this justice and generosity. God called Jonah to prophesy to the city of Nineveh, the same city that brought down the Northern Kingdom of Israel! A city known for its evil ways. As you recall Jonah fled to Tarshish because he knew God to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. So proclaiming doom and gloom did not sit well with him. He was angry when the city repented and God changed his mind. He could not see that we are all dependent upon God’s grace. He wanted the bad people to be punished. He could not see that he was God’s instrument in saving the city of Nineveh, he was too busy comparing who he thought God ought to be with the way God acted.
I think we do get envious when God offers grace and love to others. Be it sending a bush in the middle of the night to offer shade to Jonah, or paying workers a day’s wage for working only a few hours. In the kingdom of God, God’s graciousness prevails and our comparisons have no place.
The story is told of a man who dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”
“Okay, ” the man says, “I was married to the same women for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”
“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points.”
“Three points?” He says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”
“Terrific!” say’s St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.”
“One point? Well I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”
Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says.
“Two points!” The man cries. “At this rate the only way to get into heaven is by the grace of God!” St. Peter smiled. “There’s your 100 points! Come on in!” (Sermons.com)
God’s kingdom is full of grace, because God is gracious and generous.
Comparisons blind us to the generosity happening all around us, trap us in the petty parts of this life. Jesus died on the cross so that you and I could have the immeasurable gift of grace and walk into God’s kingdom leaving our comparisons at the door. Maybe we can strive to have this life be more like the next by leaving our comparisons behind right now. Amen.