Note to self: If you haven't actually read the Bible straight through--and that means without skipping any of the Minor Prophets or any of the genealogies in Numbers--don't assume you're very familiar with it.
For example, Matthew 20:1-16--the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
Somehow, even though I had definitely heard this parable several times before, probably at least once in the form of a sermon, and almost definitely made a Sunday School arts and craft activity on it, I totally forgot about it. Hearing it brought up a few days ago gave me a shock. Wait, what? There's this parable in the Bible?
Basically, an employer hired three batches of workers throughout the day but finally paid them the same amount. HE distributed payment to the last ones first, a very significant move, since it led the ones who had been hired earlier on to expect they would receive even more than those.
To their surprise, they received the same amount--the standard amount for a day's wages.
Of course, there were complaints. Not from those who had come in last, for sure, but from those who had been hired first.
And the Master's response was a poignant reminder that grace, although it is what we need so badly, is also what we often fail to understand.
I find this scene almost comical because it has that unmistakable touch of real life. I can almost see this scene happening--in Sunday School, in class, at work, even at home. The sense of the entitlement has petty origins but should not be underestimated as a force.
Like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, this sense of entitlement often manifests itself as our understanding of justice. Isn't it unfair? But the two are not really the same and one way we can see this is the fact that entitlement is often characterized by being relative. As youth in this first world society, in the twenty-first century, our sense of entitlement is very much alive and kicking. We have so many expectations for our lives, be it the amount of pocket money we get, how strict our parents are with us, how often we watch movies and when do we go past the PG boundary, whether we get to attend that concert, and how many of the latest hit songs we ought to be humming under our breath. And so much of this is relative.
As someone who had a relatively isolated and sheltered childhood, (I hate reinforcing stereotypes about homeschoolers but there are some basis for truth) I often experienced getting 'the stare' from peers as I got older, when I accidentally revealed another Martian-worthy fact about myself. I wasn't allowed to watch TV? (well, we just didn't do it on a daily basis. It was almost always a special family event when we did.) I had no idea who Taylor Swift was until last year? I had never been to school before? (this one never fails to drop jaws)
These revelations used to be amusing until I realized they were often genuinely freaked out. I felt alarmed when I realized that they actually saw me as seriously deprived, if not downright abused, something I had no idea I was and had no desire to start feeling insecure about. To me, these were just characteristics of my childhood, part of what made me who I was, part of what enabled me to develop in the way I had. To see how, in someone else's eyes, it was something I had been denied, to see them experience a vicarious sense of entitlement, was a strange sensation. And hey, I discovered Taylor Swift in my own good time, without any obvious effects due to the delay--for better or for worse.
The interesting thing is that the complaints of the first batch of workers stemmed not from the reason that the Master had given them less than they deserved--they got exactly what they expected--but because someone else got more. If they hadn't seen him passing a denarius to the others each would had definitely gone home without any complaints, whistling, with his denarius stowed comfortably in his pocket. The value of one denarius suddenly became relative.
They were unable to rejoice with the other workers, even though it cost them nothing to rejoice; if the Master had given those workers less than one denarius, it certainly didn't mean he would have given the previous ones any of that margin.
Entitlement blinded those workers from seeing the grace that the Master showed to the other workers hired later--and it is strangely touching to me how that little touch in verse 6-7 evokes so much mercy and empathy in the Master, who saw and understood the anxiety those workers must have felt, waiting helplessly for someone to hire them so they could earn the money they needed to live. I thought of the direct correlation between work and survival, which was the poignant impression I got from North and South.
Likewise, I was forced to wonder, what is our equivalent today? Am I one of those grumbling workers throwing dirty looks at those hired later? I suppose sometimes Christians are tempted to compare the amount of blessing--whether success, help, response, ability--that God grants in their ministry, in correlation to the amount of time or effort they've put in. We've been serving faithfully drafting the prayer letter and schedules for church, yet no one gets inspired and encouraged by our labours the way everyone did over the mission trip So-and-So organized, for example. Or perhaps I put in all that effort to organize a meetup and only two people turned up; whereas this last minute idea got overwhelming response. I've been praying for my loved one's salvation for years. Why should someone else's prayers be answered so soon? It's been months since I started struggling to do my devotions every day, and yet I haven't experienced the same sort of effortless refreshment and joy that she shares so enthusiastically about after getting up at six once. Or even--I came to faith years earlier than he did, and yet God seems to be blessing him with so much spiritual growth. Why did so many challenges and distractions come my way when I first believed, and yet this guy seems to be living in a constant state of hallelujahs?
Entitlement is destructive because it prevents us from being able to rejoice with others. It prevents us from being able to appreciate the grace already shown to us, it prevents us from understanding grace itself--the very essence of which is unworthiness, the opposite of entitlement.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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