By Hilary Scheppers
“Are you envious because I am generous?” Has your generosity ever sparked contempt among your family members or your peers? Were you happy to be generous?
This line, spoken from the Landowner in today’s Gospel, rings as the core of Jesus’ message today. When we see people who work less than we do (according to our perception), we may be angered. Why do they get “easily” what I have worked longer and harder to receive?
In Matthew 20, each laborer starts working in the field at various hours throughout the day. When the day ends, each man receives the same day’s wages regardless of the hours worked—all held equally. If I were a field worker who had been bearing the heat of the long day since dawn, of course, I would be envious! I would feel like this was an innate injustice. I am the one who worked longer; my reward must be more extensive, grander.
So how can we receive the same reward?
The voice of the Landowner is stern. He says, “take what is yours and go.” Now, who exactly is the Landowner? We can compare the Landowner to be like our Lord. Our Lord is the one who takes our idle hands and puts us to good use. He takes our lives and directs us, gently, to yield fruit in so many creative and unexpected ways.
The Landowner, our Lord, asks us to tend his field. And almost miraculously, He doesn’t care about time. He doesn’t care about how long we have been in the field. He doesn’t suddenly grant us seniority over another newcomer. We don’t build “credibility” with God. He already knows us intimately.
Instead, our Lord asks us every day to be humbled. If we arrived early to the message of Christ, that does not mean we have our path to heaven solidified. God needs us to show up to his field every day.
The Lord is generous, loving, and merciful, and He will be generous, loving, and merciful even to those who come late or last.
So what can we do if we have been working in the field since dawn? Nothing. But to take what is ours and go. We can stop our grumbling and head to the back of the line. We are asked to make space for those who will be coming late or last so that they can be first.
We are called to be an example of humility. Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
It’s not about how many hours you spend praying, how long you’ve been a member of your church, or how much money you have donated to charity. It’s like this: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. It’s hard to understand. I don’t fully understand all the interpretations this line could inherit. But we can acknowledge that this is God’s way. This is how the Landowner, the Lord, looks at us and cares for us.
No matter when we arrive as laborers in His field, we will be granted equality and care as His children — just for having come, for being obedient, for picking up a plow and tending to His work. We will be rewarded for showing up and answering the call.
What have you been grumbling about? Are you angered with the Landowner’s generosity to those who have come late or last?
Where are you feeling entitled to what you own or what you have? Is there an opportunity for you to be generous the way God has been generous with you? Can you show someone this week “the kingdom of heaven” by making them first instead of last?
Prayer after reading: Precious Lord, let me see your people with your eyes. May my eyes meet the gaze of those whom you love. Let me be generous with all that you have given to me.
About the author:
Hilary Scheppers is a religious poet and writer from Minnesota. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. in Humanities/Theology from Loyola Marymount University. Her poetry and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in Parabola, Apofenie, Breadcrumbs, and elsewhere. Her favorite bird is either the mourning dove or the oropendola.