“When evening came, the owner told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first.’ The men who had begun to work at five o’clock were paid a silver coin each. So when the men who were the first to be hired came to be paid, they thought they would get more; but they too were given a silver coin each. They took their money and started grumbling against the employer. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day’s work in the hot sun—yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’ Matt 20:8-12
The first thing that jumps out to me from this story is the sense of entitlement that the group of men who had worked the longest had. Although their contract specified what they were to be paid after the day’s work, and they considered it fair at the time, once they saw that workers who joined later were paid the same, they automatically assumed the terms of their own contract ought to change. The problem of course wasn’t that they weren’t paid enough, but that by the fact of the land owner’s generosity to the other workers, they had somehow earned more than their fair contract originally specified.
But beyond feeling somehow entitled to more than we have earned or deserve, what is of even greater concern is how we can become easily offended, and embittered by the grace that others receive. By giving the workers who started earliest the amount agreed, the land owner treated them justly. By paying the workers who began last (without a specified contract) the same amount as those who began earliest, the land owner treated them with grace, and grace is offensive to those who feel they have earned their good fortune.
That is why the elder son in the story of the prodigal son was offended. As he said to his father, “all these years I have worked for you like a slave, and I have never disobeyed your orders… but this son of yours wasted all your property on prostitutes and when he comes back home, you kill the prize calf for him.” Luke 15:29-30.
Indeed, grace offends those who feel they have earned their good fortune, and the trigger for this offense is comparing what God is doing in the life of others to what he is doing in yours. Grace always looks more generously given on the other side of the fence, and as long as we are looking over the fence, we will be envious and offended by the grace we see there.
The antidote for this is gratitude which flows from the conviction that there is nothing that we have that we have not received (1 Corinthians 4:7). We must outgrow the entitlement mentality that makes us think that what God has given us is less than we deserve and that he is being unfair to us by giving others ‘more’ than we have received. This is the root of the jealousy that blossoms into being offended by grace.