Today’s WotD comes from the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20:1-16.
A landowner hires laborers, who he finds aggregating in the marketplace early in the morning, to do work in his vineyard at a rate of one denarius for the day. Throughout the day, the landowner returns to hire more farmhands, who join the ranks of those already working, but who necessarily work fewer hours in the day (because there is less daylight remaining). When it comes time to compensate the workers, the landowner doles out an equal wage of one denarius to all, regardless of the number of hours each worked. Naturally, those who had toiled the entire day in the hot field complain, feeling that they deserve more than those who had worked a scant hour.
The landowner reminds the malcontent laborers that they received the wage for which they had contracted. By offering equal pay, the landowner was not demeaning the work of the laborers who had worked all day long, but rather extending grace to those who had worked little and milled about for most of the day. He asks the complainers, “is your eye evil because I am good?” (This is in the NKJ; verse 15 is variously translated in the NIV (“are you envious because I am generous?”) and the ESV (“do you begrudge my generosity?”).)
The complaining workers had cultivated a sense of entitlement–they felt that, though they knew the terms of their endeavor beforehand, their relative diligence would result in a greater reward. Although they never should have anticipated more than a denarius for their work, this feeling of entitlement bred discontent, despite the fact that they should have been grateful for the mere opportunity to work a full day.
How many times have we found ourselves in the daylong laborers’ shoes? How many of us have felt that, compared to our peers in our age range, we’re working hard to improve our prospects in life, putting in those (sometimes soul-crushing) law school hours? For how many of us has that cultivated the same sense of entitlement–that our hard work and talent deserve to be rewarded as a matter of justice? And who among us has not felt slighted by the fact that our efforts haven’t gotten us our dream job (or, in most cases, even paid employment at all)?
We need to recognize that our assiduousness does not entitle us to a job. Nor does it permit us to grumble when those we regard as less talented or industrious are rewarded. Rather, we need to focus on what the nature of our relationship with God actually is, and we need to realize that our guarantee of prosperity in Him is different from the world’s economically-oriented idea thereof. There is nothing that we can do to earn the blessings that come into our lives; we do not have a deeds-based contract with Him, and everything we receive is a gift–one that we should neither ungratefully expect nor take for granted. (This includes the talents we have and the opportunities to develop them that pervade our lives.) When we let a sense of entitlement invade our perspective, we rob grace and appreciation of their power in our lives. We reduce our relationship with God to a mere economic contract for our own wellbeing, and we forget our complete, unilateral reliance on Him. Further, in dwelling on our envy and discontent, we ruin our enjoyment of the other blessings God has already bestowed upon us.
You may end up doing a lot more work than your peers. You may “play your cards right” on the world’s terms, only to find yourself without the expected benefit and surpassed by the less deserving. But don’t let that turn you into one of the complaining laborers. Do what you’re called to do, without complaining and without expectation. Be thankful for what you have, and recognize that by endless grace we will all receive our equal denarius in heaven.
(By the way, yes, I realize that this is probably not the primary interpretation or purpose of this passage–there are clearly other important things to note, such as the analogy to late-coming Christians and prodigal sons. Nevertheless, I think it is one of the valuable lessons to be found therein.)