[ Matthew 20 in The Message]
The workers in the vineyard, hired throughout the day, are all given the same wage. It is a fair wage for a full day’s work – but the early workers begrudge the ones who arrive late. That tells you several things: that the work was not seen as rewarding, in itself; that they were more interested in their relative compensation than the actual fairness of the payment itself; that it is about ‘who is treated the best because of their own merit.’
I, too, often rest on the law of karma, rather than the law of grace – even though grace would certainly serve me better. Grace, on the other hand, does not put me in control. It makes me trust God, rather than merit. Silly me – I keep wanting to trust my merit. I hold tight to money as the source of happiness and power and a sign of esteem.
All this talk about last and first foreshadows the hardest lesson of them all: Jesus’ death – the seeming triumph of ‘the way things work,’ of power and might in the hands of the Romans and collaborating Jews. And the disciples still do not see what is coming. They are still negotiating for status and recognition – not understanding what ‘status’ or ‘recognition’ would mean in the upside-down world Jesus has been pointing to. Then, even on the road to his death, he has compassion on the blind men, who everyone else was trying to shut up.