Thrive: The Generous One – Valerie Burton


“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
— Matthew 20:1-16

Him: May I have dessert?
Me: If you take your dirty dishes to the kitchen, you may.

Him: May I have a friend over to play?
Me: If you will clean your room, you may.

Him: May I stay up and watch thirty more minutes of TV?
Me: Fifteen more minutes will be fine.
Him: Awwww, twenty more minutes?
Me: Ok, five minutes.
Him: No, Fifteen is good!

Living with children has turned me into a champion negotiator. They will bargain with me as long as I will let them. It has been assumed from the earliest practices of religion that humans could bargain with the gods to get what they want. Generosity on the part of the gods was meant to instill a generous spirit within the requestor. But in Matthew 20, in the case of this landowner and the workers in the vineyard, those who have worked the longest day for the wage agreed upon feel cheated at the end of the day when the landowner pays everyone the same amount. Our natural sense of fairness is pricked by this parable. Are the payments really fair? And if God is represented by the landowner, then will God not treat us fairly? Oh my, I hope not.

When I consider the ways of my hands and heart, I pray that God will show mercy—not showing me what I truly deserve. And when I consider what my works may have achieved, I pray that God will continue to show me grace—the gift that I could never earn.

Children prefer negotiating with grandparents. Dessert? Sure. More time? Sure. Invite a friend? Sure. Parents negotiate in order to instill responsibility, teach good choices. Grandparents seem to have a more generous perspective. God’s responses when we come negotiating are meant to instill generosity within us. God’s hope is that we will in turn be more generous with our families, our co-workers, our neighbors, our communities. Generosity begets gratitude and gratitude opens the door for Grace.

val.crop_2_smValerie Burton serves as the Minister for Christian Formation at Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala. She is a graduate of Belmont University, Nashville, and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. She has served churches in Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama for 25 years. Valerie enjoys a rich and full life with her husband Allan, their two young sons, and one old dog.

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