Am I not to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? (Mt 20:15b -16)
Growing up, I considered birthdays to be great fun because of all the gifts I received. In my family we were encouraged to make a list of the things we wanted. I was very careful with my wish list. I would write in little details to help the gift giver know exactly what it was that I wanted. If there had been such a thing as an Amazon wish list, you can bet I would have utilized it.
One year, my mindset about my birthday changed.
I had come to know Valerie in a mother’s group for our church. Valerie had grown up with a very different concept of birthday celebrations. I don’t know if this was a Hawaiian custom, since she had lived there, or if it was particular to her family. She said it was just something her family had always done, so she never gave it much thought. In her family, instead of receiving gifts, the birthday person got to give the gifts. Valerie felt like it was a great honor to do this. Her fun was in thinking about her relatives and friends and choosing gifts for them. She did not have much money, so most of the gifts were made by loving hands, but they were very heartfelt. At different times, one or another of her gifts might be more costly or elaborate than the others, and if someone was in special need, they might be the only one receiving a gift that year. But how could anyone be envious when the recipients must have realized that it was they who were supposed to be giving gifts to her! I was always humbled when I received a gift from Valerie on her birthday.
Every time that I read today’s Gospel, I think of Valerie. The workers who spent the day in the field only to receive the same as those who had worked for an hour were like the complaining recipients of a gift on someone else’s birthday. They ended up acting as if they were a friend of Valerie’s who grew envious and angry when a more special gift was given to someone else—not on their own birthdays, but on Valerie’s.
As a child, I totally understood why the day-long workers were upset, but I gradually came to see and understand the beauty of the generosity in the landowner’s ways. Why is it important for us to have the right mindset about this? Because . . . The kingdom of heaven is like this landowner. If we want to live in the kingdom of heaven, we need to get it right! This is no ordinary landowner; he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. I ought to offer him oblations (gifts) and do him homage. I ought to volunteer to spend the day working in his vineyard. When done for the day, I ought to offer to make his supper, do the dishes, and help to get his children ready for bed.
So, what do I do instead when I see him? I ask for things. I make sure to remember to keep asking for the things on my wish list—those gifts I want. But I need to turn my mindset upside down. Instead of keeping a petitions list to bring to the Lord in prayer, I should start keeping a list of reasons to praise him. I’ll call it a praise list. Or maybe, since my petitions are often for someone else, I can keep a praise and petitions list. In fact, I think that starting one of these will be my first gift to the Lord today.