You know the story from Matthew 20: Different workers show up at different times of the day and the personnel manager decides they all get the same pay. The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard bothers me every time I read it. I know that there are those who make it a metaphor for how God’s grace is so extravagant. That’s a great sentiment but the raw audacity of the parable just makes me mad. It really bothers me that everyone gets equal treatment even though they haven’t put in the same amount of work! This parable adds insult to injury! Ask a person of color if life has been fair to them. Ask a person whose kid has cancer, been a crime victim, or a government worker who has been furloughed if life is fair. Needless to say, this passage is hard to preach to people who have been on the short end of the stick.
Do you know what I mean? Have you ever experienced God’s silence as you suffered? Have your prayers gone unheeded? Have you ever wanted to shout, “God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies.” So, when I read Matthew 20 about equal pay for unequal work I want to yell at God and say, “UNFAIR!”
It doesn’t seem right to treat the dutiful workers and the flunkies alike! Today, I’m like the writer of Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity!” I’ll be better by tonight – maybe. I’ll keep working hard, but right now I’m more than a tad upset and this parable doesn’t help. How are you doing? Do you ever get angry with God? Have you about had it with the Teflon-coated people around you who seem to always dodge danger? Aren’t you a little tired of the people who get paid the same thing that you do and do one-third the work? Don’t you just want to yell, “Why? Why? Why?”
Then you’d be in good company. Jesus asked the same thing while he was hanging on the cross. He quoted Psalm 22’s refrain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If Jesus felt abandoned, no wonder we do, too! We wonder why bad things happen to good people. We don’t like it when we have apparently been targeted for cosmic retribution and others get away with whatever they want to. But, let me be clear before moving on. Bad things happen either because of our choices, the choices of others, the crud of the world that’s been around since Adam and Eve’s debacle in the Garden, or, lastly, Evil. God is never to blame. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), and God tempts no one (James 1:13). However much I want to cry out and blame God, that’s really not fair. God never causes evil! God is on our side and even dealt with life’s junk personally!
So what to do when Matthew 20 stares me in the face? For one, I don’t need to take a parable literally. It is a metaphor, stupid me! Next, I need to pray like Jesus prayed on the cross when he voiced his complaint to heaven. It’s alright to get ticked at God. Some of the best psalms are the ones loaded with lament, curses, or complaint. Sometimes their fancy names are “imprecatory” psalms. Their gist is either “Sic ‘em, Lord!” or “God, I’m tired of you punishing the wrong people!” Here’s a partial list: Psalm 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 22, 35, 37, 40, 44, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 69, 74, 79, 80, 83, 94, 109, 137, 139, and 143. If you’re feeling ticked, let it rip. God even provides the words!
The message for me is that God is not unconcerned about evil doers or our plight. There is going to be a payday someday with both comeuppance and compensation. I just need to hang in there and wait with the patience of Job. Maybe every now and then I’ll pray something like Jaron Lowenstein’s “I Pray for You.” This song/video is not PG-rated but most laments and “Sic ‘Em” songs aren’t! I hope our days turn out better than they started!