I have been struggling with Matthew 20:1-16 lately. To summarize, a landowner goes to a place where day laborers hang out and hires some guys at an agreed-upon wage. Later in the day, he returns and hires some more guys. He does that a few times. At the end of the day, he pays them all, starting with those who worked the shortest amount of time. The guys who worked all day noticed that these guys who worked a lot less were being paid the same wage they agreed to. So as they wait in line, they start to think that maybe they'll be paid more. But when they receive their pay, it's what they agreed to in the morning but now they're bitter.
I have always seen it as an instruction to "suck it up, cupcake," especially in light of frustrations at work. I'm still collecting a salary for the work I'm doing and it's the work I've agreed to do and the salary I've agreed to. Only for whatever reason I might have now felt bitter - there was a suggestion or hint of something else that didn't come to be, there might be someone else in a similar role who makes more, things like that.
But after reading the whole passage again this morning, I wonder if I've been missing the point or not reading the full context. That maybe, as Rick Warren likes to remind us, it's not about me. Maybe this is isn't about the workers but about the prerogative of the landowner and maybe it points to generosity. That might still hold an element of "suck it up-ness" but maybe that's just tangential to the illustration -- a reminder of God's full gift of grace, mercy, love, hope, peace and truth to all people, no matter when they accept it, that there's no sliding scale for age or something.
However... If I were to make it about me, there's still a lot I could glean from this passage:
* honor your commitments / persevere
* understand life isn't always fair (sometimes it might be in your favor)
* don't compare
* reassess regularly
* do your job well
* don't complain (especially to people unwilling or able to help)
* learn from those times when you feel slighted
* make sure you're not making commitments that are too burdensome, onerous or long in duration
* make sure you really understand the commitments you're making
Above all, be hopeful, be thankful, be optimistic. Nothing is permanent, everything can change, you have more control than you think. At the end of these days, the guys hired in the morning grumbled, but they had only made a commitment for a day. They were free to make other arrangements the next day, or ask for a higher wage, or try their luck at getting hired later in the day in the hopes of still getting paid the same, or seek out another landowner who might offer them other terms.
On the face of it, the fact that he paid them in reverse order so that the guys who worked the longest had to wait the longest and see everyone else get paid first and get paid the same amount? That seems cruel. That's why it seems like this isn't a story about the day laborers but instead about the gift and prerogative of the landowner. I think it also speaks to the consistency of the promise from the landlord. (Not a perversity or cruelty because that's back to the point of it not being about the day laborer as well as the fact that that's what they had agreed to.)