I remember landing my first job after high school. Money. Freedom. Just me and myself and my Subaru wagon, no more attachments, but true independence, well, and Mom and Dad to cover the insurance and, you know, the occasional tank of gas. It was only reasonable to expect. No, I wasn’t independent at all, but a step in that direction. And I remember my dad being proud of me in an “it’s about time” kind of way. But I do think he was proud. Minimum wage, maybe more if I did well, working at the neighborhood True Value Hardware store. My buddy worked there, too; he was the one who told me about the job opening.
applied, interviewed, got the job. I think I was a little surprised to
get it. Maybe a part of me was disappointed, wasn’t ready to move on.
But I would have never said that then.
more summer misadventures. I got up one morning, and it was the
working world now: eight or nine hour days. Wearing the blue knit polo
with the red letters in script, assembling propane gas grills, moving
palates of mulch on the fork-lift, in time, graduating to the rental
department where I checked in paint sprayers and rototillers and drove a
huge truck downtown a couple of times. Even started doing on-site work
with overwhelmed husbands who meant well but rented equipment they
didn’t quite know how to use.
bad for a boy who not two months before still took an the extra second
and a half to tell a flat head from a Philips with any confidence.
remember telling Dad about the job, his being glad, and the silent
pause as he thought it over for a second. Then he gave me advice that I
remembered for its strangeness at the time. He said, “Don’t talk about
the money with the guys you’re working with; I know some of them are
real good friends. Don’t ask how much they make.”
a big deal, I thought. Sure. And it wasn’t a big deal. I never
asked. Never thought to ask. Left it alone. And so I still don’t
remember how one day I found out that my best friend was making fifteen
cents an hour better than me, but I did.
it made sense: he had worked there for over a year and a half, I was
just starting. He was more knowledgeable than me: they let him ‘work
the floor.’ And more than that, he was getting what the boss had hired
him for. So was I. Permanent worker versus summer help. It made
perfect sense. Perfect sense. So why couldn’t I not care?
insult to injury, gospels like this morning's read the injustice of my
situation backwards, imagining my story about me and my friend from my
friend’s perspective: him, discovering that I’m making only fifteen
cents an hour less than him. The indignity! The clowns who showed up
late get paid the same as the long-time loyalists. What’s with that?
Like the kid who couldn’t tell the flat head from the Philips is even in
my league? Outrage. Suddenly this one-time happy situation has become
unacceptable to us both.
when the vineyard owner asks us: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose
with what belongs to me?...are you envious because I am generous?” his
anger fits me and my friend equally well. Ironically, that we are both
envious only proves that God has been generous with us both. But
sometimes it’s easier to see the richness in the other person’s hands.
past week I discovered that this dynamic, the trade-off between envy
and generosity, is not just true of first time job holders fresh out of
high school at the local True Value. I read an article the other day
with this headline: "Facebook Makes Us All Sad Because Everyone is Happy
article tells about a study out of Stanford that observed that people
who used Facebook “noticed that they seemed to feel particularly crummy
about themselves after logging onto the site and scrolling through
others' attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status
updates. ‘They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect
would have been bad enough by itself, but as it turns out envy has
implications. Says the article: “...believing that others are happier
with their choices than they actually are is likely to increase your own
sense of inadequacy.”
to do. The answer isn’t simply getting off Facebook, either. The
article quotes Montesquieu - from the 16 and 1700s - who says, "If we
only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than
other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them
happier than they are."
Grumbling about my circumstance. The grass is always greener... And God, somewhere in the mess of it all.
of this got me thinking. If you set your mind to it, if you really
wanted to, you could become richer than others are. Maybe have more
friends. Nicer cars. Better homes and gardens. Better jobs or
education. But you can never be more loved by God than others are. You
just can’t do it. And if being loved by God is the most important
thing that is true about you (and I happen to believe that it is), then
this means that Stephen Colbert was right when he told a bunch of
“You cannot win your life.”
can’t win it. Because unlike cars and jobs and cash, love is not a
commodity to be collected, hoarded, or valued at the expense of
another. It’s not a zero-sum game. Love doesn’t play by the standard
economic rules that say that the less of something there is the more
that it’s worth. No, love’s value derives from the one who gives it:
from God himself; the love that made the heavens and the earth, moved
the mountains, sent his Son, and smiled a beautiful one smile one day
and knit you in your mother’s womb. God is generous and love abounds.
the first rule of God, and also of love, is that there is always
enough. More than enough. If you’re looking to win it, forget it. But
you can still join God in the game of loving others as much as God
loves you. There’s more than enough for that.
suppose you don’t like that game. You don’t want to join it. Fair is
fair and hard work will get you where hard work will get you. I hear
you. And you have some company this morning. Jonah. Look out for the
Jonah explains why he ran away from the people God wanted Jonah to
warn, Jonah quotes the Good News as if it is very, very bad news. He
says that he knew that if he warned the people, and the people asked
God’s forgiveness, God would forgive, because “the Lord is gracious and
full of compassion...” The same verse that’s the crown jewel of the
Psalm this morning gets quoted with a repulsion on Jonah’s lips, as if
the smell of it all makes him sick. The promise of God become a
revulsion. Envy turns blessing into ugly words. Or tries to. It makes
me wonder how many of my own ugly words stand to be turned over by
love, restored to the praises of God, like gemstones mistook for
thank God for Jonah. Would we otherwise have the courage to say how
badly we wanted to win this life in the first place and how
disappointing the goodness of God can be?
if, like Israel, I was supposed to be God’s favorite? But what if,
like Israel, the favor of God means becoming a blessing for the rest of
the other people God loves? What, when I remember that at least once
upon a time, I was “just” one of the other people God loves?
Who am I to presume on the goodness of God?
forgive us, Lord, when we make idols out of how long we’ve worked the
fields, or how long we’ve been here, or how much we give, or that we
started that ministry, or God knows what else. And forgive us,
especially, when our idols make us love one another less.
end with prayer. This prayer is based on an optional prayer of the
Rite I liturgy, prayed at the moment just before the Assembly approaches
the altar to receive the sacramental body and blood of Jesus. Let us
merciful Lord, we do not presume to come to this thy Table, trusting in
our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are
not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou
art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us
therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus
Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and
he in us.