I Don’t Get No Respect
Feb 10, 2014 1597
By Levi James.
The signature line of comedian Rodney Dangerfield was: ‘I don’t get no respect.’ He lampooned his own insecurities and reflected ours in so doing. We really do want to be respected, and often believe we are undervalued. Jesus told a story which illustrates this human foible. A landowner hired labourers at the beginning of the day and agreed to a price for their services. At noon he hired more men, and again, near day’s end, he hired some more. When time came for wages to be paid, the landowner paid all the workers the same no matter what time of day they had been hired. When those who had done the most work saw this, they grumbled.
We easily identify with their unhappiness. The world is supposed to be fair. ‘A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ is the proper order of things. The landowner throws everything in to disarray by making no difference between those who worked only a few hours, and those who worked all day. His action questioned the value of those who put in the most effort. At least that is how they felt about it.
Perhaps you have stood for a long time in a queue, waiting for an interview with a government clerk. A door opens, and through walks someone with papers in hand. He does not join the line; he goes directly to the desk and talks softly to the clerk, handing him the papers. This is outrageous! You find yourself thinking: ‘How is it that I must stand here for hours, blood congealing in my legs, while he who has not endured as I have can walk straight in, get his business done and go home?’ You feel devalued.
Jesus has something for the grumblers to consider. The hardest workers were not paid less than what they agreed to. Further, it is not their business what the landowner does with his own money. Moreover, the landowner got a kick out of paying the latecomers the same amount. And there’s the rub. God enjoys being generous.
In God’s service, the relative material worth of each person’s effort is not what God thinks about. He is preoccupied, looking for opportunities to practice his largesse. The hard-working grumblers in Jesus’ story are like the Prodigal son’s elder brother. The first-born was unhappy because his father had thrown a party for his delinquent sibling. The prodigal’s return had brought untold joy to his parent. “We had to celebrate,” he said.
It is well for us to wary of the grumbler’s mistake. They were thinking about their work, their effort and its worth compared to that of other men. Better to be thinking about God’s penchant for generosity. Better to live in a world where the final truth is something in excess of ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.’ Better for mind, will and temperament to marinate in the fact of God’s infinite kindness and goodness. That, after all, could never have been earned, no matter how hard we worked.
“You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work” (Matthew 20:12).