Stephanie couldn’t help commenting as she watched her father pay the bill after dinner, “Give the server a bigger tip, Dad.” “Why? I usually tip 15 percent, but she wasn’t such a great waitress.” I’ve waited tables, remember, dad? Tipping isn’t about how well servers take care of you; it’s about letting them know you appreciate them and giving them what they need to survive. Besides, the bill would have been much larger if we had ordered drinks and desserts. I’d give her 25 percent!”
I confess I seldom take Stephanie’s position on tipping. In fact, a number of people base their tip on the quality of the service received. We live in a culture which says no free rides; everyone needs to pull their own weight; you get what you deserve. Perhaps that is why today’s parable strikes a dissident cord in us. I would venture to say, most of us, here would side with the laborers hired at dawn. It certainly is not fair that those who worked 12 hours in the scorching heat should receive the same pay as those who worked for an hour or two.
A closer look at the parable reveals this is not about labor unions. The key line in this parable is toward the end. Are you envious because I am generous? This parable is about generosity. Or in the words of Stephanie from our story—it is about God letting us know we are loved and will give us what is needed.
The parable stresses that God wants to make sure each person has everything they need to be saved, no matter how late they come to accept God’s invitation to the kingdom. Throughout the parable, it is the landowner himself who goes out several times and hires workers. Some people are slow in responding to God’s invite. They seek answers in other places. Turn to the things of this world---prestige, power, money. Finally, after all else has failed, they seek God.
The parable turns the world upside down. We are asked to put aside our human notions and criteria, and place our trust in God’s ways, even when we do not understand God’s ways. When we approach things with our human hearts, envy gets in the way. Envy shifts our attention from our own behavior to that of others. How can so and so possible get the same treatment? Look at their lives!
How different the world would be if we acted with the same generosity. In fact, this is at the heart of stewardship. Stewardship acknowledges that all we have is a gift from God. Gifts given to us by God, not for our own use, but for the building up of the kingdom. Our response to this generosity is to give without the fear of being in want. Constantly in the scriptures we are reminded God will provide for us. Trusting in God, our generosity could bring an end to hunger, homelessness, poverty. Trusting in God, our generosity of time, talent, and treasure would enable our parish ministries to cause a change in the lives of others.
Through prayer, we open ourselves to a glimpse of God’s way of being and acting. Opening ourselves to God is not a one-time event but a process we continue each time we come to the table of the word and the body and blood of Christ. Opening ourselves to God melts away our fears and enables us to imitate the generosity of God.