“It’s not fair!”
Those are the three words that popped into my head as I read again the story of the day laborers. “It’s not fair” that those who worked the last hour of the day in the coolness of the evening got the same amount of money as those who slaved under the sun the entire day. Right? It is not fair.
As they stood in line, waiting for their pay, those who worked all day expected, and maybe got a little excited, that they might be making more money than was agreed to in the morning as those last workers received an amount equal to an entire day's wage. When they got the same amount as those who worked one hour, they were understandably incensed.
"These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
In other words, “It’s not fair!”
There are lots of things that are not fair, of course:
The neighbor who got a bonus at work and a new car, but we still tinker to keep our junker going, is not fair.
The girl who always gets the lead part in the musical even though we might be a better singer, is not fair.
The couple in the restaurant who gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes as we struggle to make any relationship work, is not fair.
The children on the other side of the room who are so well behaved as our children scream because they did not get their third piece of candy in a row, is not fair.
As you scroll through social media, you see the fun others are having at the beach or on the top of mountains while you struggle. Life is not fair, and there is no joy in comparisons.
Now, it is easy for a non-Christian to say, “life is not fair” because for them it is simply a statement attesting to the random nature of the world.
But, those of us who believe in a God who has a hand in the affairs of our lives, the unfairness of it all is a little more personal and biting.
The faithful clearly see that people who worked only an hour getting the same wage as we who worked all day is a choice that the land owner makes. It is not a random occurrence. It is a choice.
And, that choice to lift others up while leaving us behind hurts. Why do they get the attention, but we hard workers are just left behind? Why are they chosen for joy, but we are destined for sorrow? In other words, “God, why don’t you love me as much?”
There is a problem with comparisons. Comparing our lives to others is like putting blinders on the eyes of a horse. Those little half cups that go on the outside of the horses eyes cause the horse to see only what is ahead and only what is a ways away. When wearing blinders, the horse cannot see what is quite close by.
In the same way, comparisons serve a similar blinding function.
The day laborers who worked through the sweat of the day could see the ones who worked for only an hour standing far up ahead in line, but could not see a basic fact about their own life: the land owner also paid them, and paid them exactly what was owed.
The land owner responds, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?'
As you see, the problem with comparison is that it does not allow you to see just how much God has blessed and loved you.
The day laborers who worked an entire day could have chosen to rejoice with those who received a day’s wage, but did not earn it. They could have been happy that these guys' families would eat well tonight, and maybe could have even taken them out for a beer after work in order to rejoice with them. That could have happened, had they understood just how blessed they were.
They were blessed after-all. The landowner paid them as promised. The fact that the last are first in God’s kingdom does not necessitate a negative attitude. The fact that those who were initially left out eventually get some grace and gift should remind us of the grace and gift that God has given us.
God has blessed you. Some days it is hard to see, I know, but it is still true. God has blessed you with grace and gifts, but sometimes we are just blind to it.
Do you want some practical, “I can take this home and use it,” sort of discipleship advice this morning? Theologian David Lose offered these suggestions, and they are quite simple, but good.
Know though that following this advice will not gain you any points in heaven, nor will it gain you any points in the eyes of your pastor (mainly because I will not see you doing them in the first place), but it will open your eyes to those instances in which God’s grace is poured out upon daily.
First: Count your blessings.
The familiar and beloved hymn encourages you to “count your blessings” and “name them one by one.” Unfortunately, the hymn has turned the idea into a sort of trope that is easily ignored, but believe me when I say that the practice can be quite powerful.
Each morning, while you wash your face or take your shower name at least two things for which you are blessed. Try to think of specific things from the day before. Take note of your blessings. Do not allow yourself to be one of those blind horses. See the gifts that God has given that are right beside you.
Second: If you are on social media, put it down at least an hour before bed.
Not only is this good sleep practice, but it also allows you some time free from the temptation of comparison. You know, as well as I do, that we only put the best stuff from our lives on social media. Well, most of us do anyway.
You do not put your struggles out in the public domain. That, as you know, is considered inappropriate and narcissistic in the social media world. You do not put your major struggles out there and neither do your neighbors and friends.
But, do you not see how that creates false images of reality?
Therefore, allow yourself the gift of an hour before bed away from the temptation of comparison. Use that hour to again list your blessings. Maybe, make your last post of the day something for which you are thankful.
Third: Share your struggles with others.
Crack open that perfect external mask. Remember, others are staring at what appears to be your perfect life. They look at you, and your pictures on social media or in your wallet or in your purse, and they see how great your life is in comparison with their own.
Maybe, it would help them to know that you have scars too.
Jesus showed his own scars after-all.
Maybe, people would feel less forgotten by God and their friends if they could see someone else who struggles, yet finds new life and hope in the end.
Another way to put all of these suggestions is to stop identifying with the laborers who worked all day in the sun. Instead, locate yourself among the group who have been given a full day’s wage after waiting in hopelessness all day on the street corner waiting for work. Identify with those who are hired just moments before the work day is over.
You are the one who has been blessed without deserving it. You are the one for whom God has shown mercy. You are the one who thought you might be lost and left behind, but instead was found.
You are the recipient of God’s grace and gifts.
You are blessed.
Just make sure that you take time to remind yourself.