The parables of Jesus always have surprise endings. “What?! How can this be?” we ask. Then there is a choice: are we like one, or the other, this person or that, this group or that? “What will you choose?” Jesus asks.
The workers who were employed for only one hour—the five o’clock in the afternoon contingent—are paid a full day’s wage; those who worked through the heat of the day receive no more, and, cleverly, the landowner has them paid last of all, so they get to see those generous early payments and get their hopes up.
Imagine the delight of the latecomers in receiving a full day’s wage! Now imagine the dismay of those who worked so hard all day who were paid the same! What a surprise ending! And what a choice we have: to be grumpy or to be cheerful. With whom shall we stand? Will we be jumping for joy with the late arrivals getting their unexpected windfall, or grumpy with the others?
You see, it is just as easy to be happy when good things happen to other people as it is to be sad when they haven’t happened to us. It depends who we are looking at: the others, or at myself. Don’t look at ourselves! That is fatal! We have all we need. We have the day’s wage. Now let happiness flow into ourselves because of the good that happens to others. Enjoy others’ good fortune! Let everyone in the whole wide world be my brother and my sister.
Parents know how to do this. If something good happens for their children they are happy. In fact, parents are happy to inconvenience themselves if it means bringing happiness to their children. They are always self-sacrificing: preparing the meals, going to work to keep a roof over their family’s heads and food on the table, taking their children places. Their children’s happiness is their happiness. Be happy that the latecomers (who may be our children) are receiving so many good things, not grumpy that life was tough in the old days and now everyone has it handed to them on a plate.
The landowner asks, “Why should my generosity make you jealous of them?”. A footnote in The Passion Translation says it could be literally translated as, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”. And there it is: the problem is with our eyes. Who are we looking at? Is it others, so as to enjoy their good fortune, or have we turned our eye on ourselves, so as to feel we are missing out? At the slightest sign of self-consciousness at times when we should be looking at others, or at the goodness and beauty in the world, mentally slap yourself, say sorry, and get back to looking at others and where the goodness is. The evil eye looks at myself. The good eye looks at the wild and profligate generosity of God. I do not have to own that latest iPhone; it is enough that you have one. I am happy for you!
If only the Russian president could look at Ukraine and say, “I’m happy for you! You are an independent country now! How can we help you? Mother Russia is glad when her children grow up and leave home.” But no. “Why should you have the second-biggest known gas reserves in Europe, be second only to Norway in natural gas resources, be fifth largest exporter of iron ore in the world in 2019, be rich in titanium and lithium and be one of the world’s largest distributors of wheat and corn? I want what you have!” Countries can have the evil eye.
If only everyone could be heard and noticed and cared about! But no: “Why should indigenous Australians have a special Voice to parliament? Why should they be treated differently from me?” Try, “I am happy for you!”
Here we are in sunny Queensland. How many in Victoria are wishing they could have our climate and glorious coastal beaches? I know a Victorian family and two of their daughters are now living on the Sunshine Coast. They are so happy for them! Their happiness is the happiness of their children, and that is the way it should be in this wonderful, beautiful world where we are all God’s children and our God is happy when we notice and enjoy all God’s gifts, and—tellingly—when we learn to be like God and be happy when others are happy.
We look around and see “skies of blue, trees of green”. Are we grumbling because we do not have enough, when we have so much?
There is a story that I only half remember, but its ending was, “Man, every moment of the day you are being vastly overpaid!”
There are other things to be learnt from the parable of the workers.
Watch out for expectations … they bring disappointments. Even going to watch a sport game expecting my team to win can stop my enjoying the game.
Am I working for love, or for money? The volunteers who deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors do it for love, and I have never seen an unhappy deliverer yet. Work is a blessing when we do it for people. My work may not be in direct contact with people, but ultimately someone is benefiting from the work I do, and I can make my daily work into a small offering for them, the unknown people who will buy something I have helped make or display from a shop, or drive the car that uses some mechanical part that was made in a factory in which I work. Look through and beyond the daily work to the ‘why am I doing this?’ and find the people to love by my doing it.
Don’t let your work be something imposed on you by others, or the necessity of earning, or any other reason that means you are not doing it freely and willingly.
The labourers were picking grapes: was it a joyful harvest, or “something I gotta do”? Jesus offered this advice: if a Roman soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, go two. If he forces you to give him your cloak, give him your shirt as well. Make it your choice, not his. Work, even when it is enforced, because you choose to. It is totally the opposite of, like, “Grumble, grumble … wish I only had to do an hour’s work a day … mumble, mumble …”
May our work be a blessing. May we feel compassion for those whose circumstances have made them idle. May we enjoy the challenges. May we always be grateful. May we be glad with others when fortune favours them. May we be happy for those far away and I do not know when they receive blessings. “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like” (Mt 20:1).