A woman who was a grandmother ran a small store in a southern rural town where everyone knew everyone else - as well as their business.
Almost on a daily basis a customer would come in, and when the woman asked how they were doing - they would start in with a litany of complaints: it was too hot or it was too cool; they could not plow because the ground was too hard from lack of rain, or too wet because of too much rain. Cattle prices are up - but hog prices are down. . . and on they would go.
Whenever this happened, the woman would look at her grandaughter who helped her in the store and give her a nod.
Later, after the complainer left, she would try to teach her grandaughter a lesson by saying:
“did you hear that? Those people have all they really need, and yet they still complain.
There are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, the rich & poor, the young & old - who will never wake again. They expected another day, but never got one. Their bedsheets became their burial sheets.
And those people would give anything, anything at all, for just five minutes of this weather, or 10 minutes of plowing a field.
So be careful when you complain, my dear one. What you are supposed to do when you don’t like something – is change it. And if you can’t change it - then change the way you think about it.”
Jesus’ society was different than our own, of course. The usual daily wage was a denarius - which was enough to feed one’s family for a day.
The only thing the generous landowner of the vineyard was doing was to make sure that none of the people who worked for him that day – even those who came to work at 5 in the evening - would have to beg, borrow, or steal in order to feed their families the next day.
The owner was fair with all – but generous with some – crazy with generosity, to borrow an image Deacon Jim used with forgiveness last week for those who heard him.
And so the ones who got their fair salary, the usual daily wage - but not the extra bonus - complained. And those with whom the owner was generous - certainly were grateful.
Now, we do have to admit - that there are advantages to complaining. . . It helps us get things off our chest instead of letting things build up. Complaining many times helps us sort out our thoughts and it sometimes helps us get things done – when we don’t like something, we can work to change it. And if we can’t change it, then we can change the way we think about it.
But we have to be careful not to make complaining a way of life - which many people do - no matter what, they are the half-empty glass people, rather than the half-full people. And those constant complainers can just suck the life out of the rest of us. . .
And we have to be careful that our complaining is not done out of envy of what others have or receive – like the people in today’s Gospel.
And IF we are going to complain - we should also take the time to count our blessings.
Jesus’ parable is really about salvation, of course. Remember Jesus received a lot of criticism for associating with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners.
The religious leaders of his day thought people such as those Jesus hung out with had little chance of being saved. They thought only they - the scribes and Pharisees, the Saduccees and the priests – were deserving of salvation.
But this parable of Jesus – along with his own words and actions – was saying God’s mercy is available at any time to anyone who responds to God’s invitation to be saved.
It’s never too late! It’s not always smart to decide to wait until the last minute – because many times a person’s bed sheets become their burial sheets. The challenge coming from St. Paul is to “conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ” NOW - not later.
But this parable can be a caution against other things too:
How many times have we thought or said:
God isn’t fair!!
Fortunately God ISN’T fair – if fair means we get what we deserve. God is more than fair. God is crazy with generosity with us all.
But so often we think God is being more generous to someone else and we are more deserving. . .
Even IF we are more deserving, and only God knows that – we will only make ourselves miserable by drawing comparisons.
We will always find someone who appears to be better off than we are. Rather than comparing ourselves with others –it’s best to focus on God’s goodness to us and to trust that God is more than fair toward any of us.
We all have our problems and struggles, our fears and anxieties. But we also have much to be thankful for.
And that’s why we gather here to celebrate the Eucharist – a word which means “thanksgiving”. Because this is the most perfect way to show God that we are grateful.
Moments in time...