From the Very Rev. Kristina Maulden

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

This little phrase is found in our Gospel for Sunday.  It comes at the end of a parable, where a landowner hires workers throughout the day to work in a vineyard. Everyone received the same pay. Those who came earlier in the day were angry. Even though they had received what had been promised, they were upset that they did not receive more. Why should those who worked only half the day or for an hour receive the same amount? Often this parable is interpreted in view of those new to the faith. Those who worked longer were likened to those who had been faithful to God for all their lives and the new workers were new to faith. And there is an element of that. But, there is, as in every parable, so much more.

To get at some deeper understanding, we have to look at the culture of the day. At the time of Jesus, there was a very different understanding of the agency of evil. The phrase that we read “are you envious because I am generous” reads like this in the underlying Greek: Is your eye evil because I am good? If we dig a bit into the philosophy of the day, we encounter the thinking that light came out of the eyes. They felt that we saw and understood things because of the light that originated from our hearts. If you were blind, it was not a problem with your eyes, it was a problem with your heart. 

Just as light came from the heart, so did darkness. Evil was thought to originate in the heart and then be projected through the eye. This is the foundation for the idea of the evil eye. People felt that if someone cast their eyes full of evil or evil intentions upon you, it could literally cause evil to happen to them. Obviously, our understanding of the agency of evil has changed. But, there is still truth here. When our hearts are filled with evil intentions, with jealousy, with anger, we do affect the people around us. This is a destructive force in our lives and does impact our communities.

Let’s look at one face of evil: jealousy. This seems to be the root of the problem in the parable. Those who had worked longer in the vineyard were jealous that the other workers were paid the same. It should be noted that the wage that everyone was paid was enough for bread for that day. Everyone got exactly what was needed. The expectation that some segment of a society or a congregation or a group of workers is more deserving or less deserving than others is a very divisive way of thinking. God’s way is to ensure that all have what they need. God does not take away from one group, to give to another. God shows us that there is plenty for all to have what they need. But, humans find this sort of generosity hard to grasp. We desire to sort out the worthy from the unworthy. And, I might mention, few of us put our own selves in the unworthy group. If we consider any group of people unworthy of basic human needs, we are falling into the thinking of the workers of the vineyard. Jesus calls this out as evil. 

Scripture often exhorts us to be renewed in our thinking. We are asked to put on the mind of God. I would encourage all of us to be open to that kind of renewal.