Discomfort: Sign of Grace?
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Poor Jonah. The guy never could get comfortable. He was uncomfortable with his God-given call to preach to Nineveh; he was uncomfortable in the arms of the sailors as they hoisted him over the boat’s edge and tossed him into the sea; he was uncomfortable as the ocean’s raging waves flung him about like flotsam; he was—undoubtedly—uncomfortable in the fish’s belly; and he was uncomfortable and downright angry with God’s mercy on the people of Nineveh. Jonah had a hard time getting comfortable with himself, and, even more so, Jonah was uneasy embracing the wideness of God’s grace.
The same can be said about the laborers in Jesus’ parable here in Matthew 20. The laborers who came in the early morning hours grumbled against the landowner because they were paid the same as others who started later and worked fewer hours. These laborers are ill-at-ease with the landowner’s choice “to give to this last the same as I give to you.” Like Jonah, they are uncomfortable with the unchecked mercy offered by the landowner/God. God doesn’t play by our rules, and that can be very discomforting for us all.
Our discomfort with grace manifests itself in all sorts of ways. It can be discomforting for us to engage the poor and the outcast of our society. It can be discomforting for us to welcome immigrants into our communities. It can be discomforting to address the pervasive racism that still surrounds us. And it can be very discomforting for us to open our lives to the transforming power of the cross of Christ, whereby “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16).
Could it be that the more uncomfortable we become with the reckless love of God, the closer we are to understanding the meaning of grace?
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus tells a parable about God’s generosity, challenging the common assumption that God rewards people according to what they have earned or deserve.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”