I have always liked suckers. They come in sweet flavors and usually last a lot longer than a piece of chocolate. Suckers are a comfort food. If you are watching your fat intake then you are in luck. Suckers are fat free. Of course there are other kinds of suckers. I believe it was Phineas T. Barnum that said, “There is a sucker born every minute.” The late comedian and actor W.C. Fields said, “Never give a sucker an even break.”
In the 20th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells a story that could be titled, The Suckers!” He tells the story of an employer who needs workers for his vineyard. He goes into the marketplace of the city to look for unemployed men waiting to be hired. He finds some day laborers and they agree on a price for a day’s work. As the day goes on, more laborers are needed and more are hired at the same wage. When the time comes at sunset for the workers to be paid, the employer tells his foreman to pay all the workmen the same wage, beginning with those who were hired last. Each worker is to receive a full day’s pay. The workers who were hired first and worked the longest begin to complain, and even challenge the employer. They try to tell him how to manage his business. “The men who came last have done only one hour,” they grumble, “and you have treated them equal to us though we have done a heavy day’s work.” (Mt. 20:12). To which the owner and master of the vineyard replies, “I am not being unjust to you.... take your earnings and go; I choose to pay the last-comer as I pay you.” Then, as a true capitalist of the ancient world, the master asserts his right to control and manage his affairs his way, saying, “Have I no right to do what I want with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Jesus ends the parable with his famous maxim: “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Mt. 20:12-16). The men who worked the whole day felt they had been suckered. They received what they were promised, but instead of being content they were focused wrongly on the other workers who worked a shorter day.
The kingdom of God is like that, Jesus is telling us. God is in control of his vineyard. God is in charge of his universe. God does what he chooses with what belongs to him. God gives us the gift of life and the means to bring it to fulfillment according to his plan. And isn’t it the case very often that we grumble and complain, and we begrudge his generosity by trying to challenge him and usurp his authority and run things our way?
Isn’t it true that we spend way too much time comparing, judging, and pointing at others and not enough time looking in the mirror? I don’t know about you, but I am going down the hall and look at my reflection right now.
Bob Collier is the pastor of North Salem Church of God.