Do you sometimes feel that God is unfair? – Francis Alvarez, SJ

Matthew 10:1-16, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
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A landowner goes out at dawn and hires laborers to work in his vineyard. He does the same at 9:00 am, 12:00 noon, 3:00 pm, and 5:00 pm. That evening, those who  started working at 5:00 pm are given a full day’s wage. Those who started working at dawn then expect to receive more, but they are given the same amount. Unfair? This group must have thought so for as they leave, they grumble against the owner, “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat” (Matthew 20:12).
If the laborers who toiled the whole day had not found out that those who worked for only an hour were given a full day’s wage, I think they who sweated for 12 hours would have gone home happy. They might have been exhausted, but it was still a good day. After all, they had found employment (or more precisely, employment had found them), and they were compensated with the agreed upon amount. Do you still think what happened was unfair?
When the laborers who worked the whole day learned how much was given to those who worked much less, they must have started calculating how much more they were going to get even if they had already talked with the owner about their pay. As the owner later told them, “I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” But maybe the disgruntled workers had already planned what they were going to do with the extra money they thought could be in their hands. Or maybe they had even smirked at the surprised faces of those who were remunerated for a full day though they had even barely broken a sweat and thought, “Well, I’m definitely going to be happier than they are when I get my due.”
The problem with those who worked for a full day and were paid “only” a day’s wage is this: They were focused on what they did not have rather than on what they did have. They were stuck on the money that they thought could have been theirs. Maybe they could not move on from thinking, “I should have started working only at 5:00 pm. I wasted my time and my strength. Now, all those hours and all my effort are gone, and there is no way to get them back.” In lamenting only for what they did not have, they missed rejoicing for what they did have – a full day’s work and a full day’s pay.
I am reminded of another person in Scripture who could not see his blessings because he was blinded by what he thought he deserved. The elder brother of the prodigal son complained to his father, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf” (Luke 15:29-30). Anger and envy blocked the elder brother from appreciating what was truly important. This, the father pointed out in the very next verse when he replied, “‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” Is this not enough? Is this not more than enough?
It was the prodigal son who had less – even though he had the fattened calf – because he had spent so much time away from the father. In a similar way, those who worked for only an hour actually had less because they had less time working for the master in the fields. This does not make sense when you think about it in hours and minutes, in pesos and centavos, in terms of punching in at the Bundy clock and keeping track of your employee benefits. But it makes infinite sense when you start seeing it in the light of harvesting at the Lord’s vineyard. Spending time working for and with God – can we see this not just as an imposition or obligation? Can we see this as already a gift in itself?
There are certain situations which are not just unfair but which must rightly be called unjust. In these situations, we must do everything we can to fight and correct the wrongs that are happening. Peace can come only when we address the situation. But there are also certain situations which may seem unfair and about which we can do nothing. Here, peace can come only when we accept the situation. For example: Why was I born with these particular talents when it is other talents which I want? Why does she love him and not me? The more we complain, the less joy we will have to celebrate the talents we do have and the many people who do love us.
For the longest time, I have been in admiration of a family I was given the great gift to know. They are a family of more than just modest means, but you would never guess this from where they live and what they wear. The only son’s phone is three generations behind the latest one even if they can easily buy the model that was just released. Their TV set does not have as many pixels as the TVs in other houses I have visited. Their car is not equipped with the top-of-the-line features and amenities. I asked the mother once, “Why does your son still stick with his old phone?” The mother replied simply, “Because it still works. It can do all that things he needs it to do. He is more than happy with it. And come on, it is a great phone!” They have the same attitude with their other possessions. This family looks at what they have, and they are thankful. It is when you look at what you do not have that you start getting restless and resentful.
I do not know another family who gives as big a percentage of what they earn to charity. I think it is also because they look at what they have with gratitude. Because they truly see and appreciate what they have, this family has also seen what they can give to others.
*image from the Internet
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