from our capitalist point-of-view, the vineyard owner is unjust. he paid a full day's wage to workers who had worked much less than a full day without paying a comparatively higher amount to those who had worked all day. on the other hand, maybe this wasn't a lesson about fairness, but rather one intended to teach something far more complex. could it have been a rebuke to the jewish leaders who believed that the long history of "true religion" which they possessed would garner them a huge reward compared to the fate that awaited those who were not faithful jews? could it have been a lesson about the need to be concerned for those whose families would have gone hungry save for the generosity of the vineyard owner in paying all the workers a full day's wage?
earlier in the service, we had spoken a prayer of confession that began, "most merciful God, we confess that our very nature is sinful." i cringed when i saw what was printed in the bulletin and couldn't read the prayer with the congregation. if we are created in God's image, how could "our very nature [be] sinful?" if we are so sinful, how can we love so that we rejoice "when right is done?" the standard evangelical answer is that we can't love in this way until we are "saved" by faith in jesus and the standard interpretation of the lesson of the workers in the vineyard is that God (the vineyard owner) generously provides for us whether we come to faith early or later in our lives, that all are "saved" regardless of the amount of time each has accepted the grace of God. if this is so, we arrogantly teach that no one can truly love (or rejoice when right is done) unless we, like the jews of jesus' day, are possessors of the only truth.
did the vineyard owner do what was "right?" what does "doing right" mean? in the context of the other characteristics of love that paul lists in 1 corinthians 13, it seems to me that the right about which paul speaks is showing lovingkindness and compassion for oneself and for others. such actions cause our hearts to rejoice as we do what is right and observe others doing what is right. generosity of spirit is always right--none of us has cornered the market on truth, and we can always learn from others. giving of ourselves--time, talents, possessions--so that others don't live in want lightens the heart.
may we rejoice in doing what is right, helping others along the way, listening and learning as we go. may we not live lives focused on the unfairness of life, but may we instead see that the gift of life that come to us each day is a true cause for joy. may we say to ourselves each day, "i am fortunate to have awakened." shalom.