FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK
A hard-working parish priest, after a lifetime of ministry, died and went to heaven. When he got there, he was assigned an attractive two-bedroom house to serve as his heavenly abode. He was rather pleased with his house until he took a walk around the neighborhood and ran into a parishioner who had been a cab driver and now was living in a mansion with a swimming pool and tennis courts. The priest went directly to St. Peter to complain. He said, “I’ve worked my whole life long serving God’s people. Now this parishioner of mine is a very good person, but he was a cab driver! Why is he living in so much bigger a house than I am?” St. Peter said, “Here’s how it goes. When you preached, people slept. But when he drove, people prayed.”
We do not always understand God’s ways, and that is why it is dangerous to complain. Complaining takes place in today’s Gospel. Those who were hired first complained because those who worked only one hour received the same wage as they did. We certainly understand their feelings. We probably would have the same reaction, if we were in their shoes. This parable is one of the most difficult parables for us to understand. But, before we become too critical, we must realize that all the parable is doing is reflecting life as it is.
The truth is that life is unfair. We would like to think that those who work the hardest would be the most successful. But we all know people who are working two, maybe three, jobs and are still unable to support their families. We would like to think that the people who have the most talent are those who would be the most respected and compensated. But we all know of football players who cannot even remember to keep their helmets on their heads (sorry about this) and who are making millions of dollars more than teachers who give their lives instructing our young. We would like to think that people who are good and who live honestly are going to have easier lives. But we all know people who are the “salt of the earth” who have terrible crosses to bear. And each time we see any of these inequalities, we are tempted to complain.
That is why today’s parable is helpful. It shows us how to live in an unfair world. What does the landowner say to those who complain? He says, “Take what belongs to you and go.” Don’t worry about what other people have received. Take your own life. Rejoice in it and live it.
Maya Angelou, the famous American playwright and poet, wrote a series of memoirs about growing up in rural Arkansas. Many of those memoirs centered on her grandmother, a very influential person in her life who ran a little store in their hometown. Maya’s grandmother had very little patience with complainers. Whenever one of the town whiners would come into the store to buy anything, she made sure that Maya was called in to witness the event. Once Maya was in the store, her grandmother would say to the complainer, “How are things going?” Immediately the grumbler would begin to say how terribly hot it was. It was the hottest he could ever remember it to be. He couldn’t stand the sweltering heat. And how much plowing he had to do. It seemed that each year there was more. And his equipment was getting older, and it was becoming more difficult. Now all the time that he was rambling on, Maya’s grandmother would look at her granddaughter to make sure she was paying attention.
When the whiner finally left, her grandmother took Maya aside and said to her, “Child, there are people who went to sleep last night, rich and poor, black and white, who will never wake up again. And every one of those dead people would give all that they had for five minutes of this hot weather, for five minutes of this difficult plowing. So, be careful, child, about complaining. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, then change the way you think about it. But don’t be a complainer because complaining will rob you of life.”
The advice of Maya Angelou’s grandmother dovetails with the words of the landowner in today’s gospel to those who complain: “Take what belongs to you and go.” Live the life you have been given, not the life that you wish you had been given, not the life that other people have been given. Live your life fully because complaining will only diminish you, only lessen you.
So, what is it you complain about? Your spouse? Your children? Your parents? Your job? Your retirement? Your church? Your government? Your health? Your priest? Be careful about complaining because it can rob you of life. Instead, take what belongs to you and go. If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, then change the way you think about it. But don’t waste your time complaining. Life is simply too short for that.
The good news is this: life may be unfair, but God is in charge. And God will not forget any of us. If we take the life that we have been given (even if others have been given more) and live it, we will find that it is enough. For once we choose to live our own lives, we will discover that we have not been short-changed or cheated. We will realize that every one of us has been given a full day’s wage.
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