"Our Useless Need To Compare”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 21, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16


    This morning we are going to explore an intriguing parable that Jesus used to illustrate a lesson he was teaching.  This particular parable captures our attention immediately because a vineyard owner decided to pay all his hired laborers the same wage even though some of them had worked eight hours and others just one hour.  

    There are times during our life-experience where we compare ourselves with others. This experience was one of those times for these laborers. When we begin making comparisons, we can either develop a false sense of superiority or we can feel slighted or short-changed like the laborers in Jesus’ illustration.  

    What point was Jesus making with this example?   Jesus was teaching people to be grateful for what they have, and to find joy in doing their best work while performing their tasks. In addition, Jesus was teaching what frequently happens to people when they begin comparing themselves with others. The generosity of the vineyard owner to give everyone the same wage regardless of how many hours they worked could easily leave some of his laborers feeling undervalued. 

     Listen carefully to the vineyard owner’s answer to the laborers who questioned his pay-scale: 

I have not cheated any of you.  I paid you exactly what we agreed upon when I hired you. I want to give the men I hired at the end of the day the same wage that I gave you.  I believe I have the right to spend my money the way I wish.  Are you jealous of these other men because you have compared your wages with theirs?  There is nothing wrong here from my point of view because I feel generous today.  (Matthew 20:13f)

    A friend of mine told me of an incident that happened to him some years ago that illustrates what Jesus was teaching.  The Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. had a blockbuster movie that was about to open.  People, including my friend, had spent the night camped out near the box office so they could be among the first in line when the tickets went on sale. 

    My friend said,

The line stretched as far as eyes could see and then turned a corner.  I was within 25 feet of the window when the box office opened for business.   My long wait was almost over when 15 people came to the front of the line, gave money and a handsome tip to some guy who was ahead of me.  I couldn’t believe it!


The guy accepted the bribe and bought tickets for the group.  Those of us that had invested hours of our lives waiting in line all night got the same early tickets as those who had just parked their car. 

    He said that he smoldered with resentment for days after that happened. He wrote the management of the theater as did other people.  The complaints were so numerous about this practice that the theater eventually changed its policy on multi-ticket sales to one person.

    This was Jesus’ point exactly.  Think about this.  My friend got his tickets exactly as he had planned, but his angry response to the people who broke in line caused him to lose the excitement of why he had spent the night. The chances are good that my friend allowed this injustice to affect him emotionally to the point where I doubt he enjoyed the movie.  

    How quickly do we surrender our peace?  How quickly do we point fingers at others for causing us to lose our peace? How quickly do we forget that fairness and justice in life are not exactly consistent experiences we have while living in this world?  Our peace, however, is something over which we have complete control whether we believe so or not.   If we think that life has to be fair and just, we need to think again!

    Some of us really enjoy watching tennis star, Roger Federer play.  His net worth is 180 million dollars and this year thus far, he has received 52 million dollars from his numerous endorsements of various products.  Who can imagine why anyone is worth that kind of money because of a skill he or she has with a tennis racket?  There is no glass ceiling for women either.  Serena Williams has a net work of 120 million.  This wealth is due to being successful at playing a game.

    Business executives frequently receive what industry calls a golden parachute. The severance package when they leave the company can easily reach a height of 150 million dollars. What a thank-you gift! Is this insane or what? 

    Think about David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom receiving an annual salary of $142,000 Pounds. Think of President Barack Obama receiving an annual salary-package of $569,000.  These two men are among other heads of state that have enormous responsibilities.

    Our worth has nothing to do with our financial rewards.  We know that Jesus was not talking about a pay-scale in his illustration; he was talking about the way God responds to each of us.  God loves each of us equally by giving us a gorgeous world, by giving us the potential to reach for the stars if we desire to do so and by giving us the ability to create through a loving spirit and an active imagination.

    Jesus began his illustration with these words, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this:” Until we understand that Jesus was inviting his listeners to live in the world of spirit, we will to continue to cry “foul” when we compare ourselves with the income or accomplishments of others.  In truth, our sense of being handed some unjust reward is a useless judgment.  What we think about it, will not change the experience.  

    What was important to all of the laborers in Jesus’ illustration is that a vineyard owner had given them a job.  When Jesus’ listeners celebrate the opportunity of being able to work and not the wage they earn, they will graduate from defining their value by what they receive.

    Years ago, the Creator of the Peanuts Comic Strip, developed a quiz for people.   Even though this was a quiz for Americans, all of us will get the point. 1.  Name the five wealthiest people in the world.  2.  Name at least five Heisman trophy winners.  3.  Name the last year’s winner of the Miss America Contest.  4.  Name three people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prizes.  5.  Name the Academy Award winners for the best actor and actress for the last three years.   6.  Name the World Series winners for the last three years.

    Charles Shultz was making the point that most of the high-profile people are known to us because of what they have accomplished.  However, our memory of them, their importance to us and their accomplishments disappear in our minds almost over night.  The people that we do remember gave themselves to us in some capacity as we were making our way in life.

    Schultz added five additional questions to his quiz:  1. List the names of three teachers who have inspired you on your life’s journey.  2.  Name three people who have supported you during difficult circumstances.  3.  Can you remember the names of three people who have taught you some valuable lessons for making success an every day experience?  4.  Think of three people who have made you feel appreciated and loved.  5.  Think of eight people with whom you would enjoy spending time.

    Again, Schultz’s commentary suggests that the people who have made the most difference in our lives are not those with the best credentials, the most wealth or the most remarkable accomplishments.  Rather, they are the ones who made us feel cared for and valued. 

    Jesus was teaching his listeners to bring this same energy to their work ethic and not be concerned with what other people are paid. 

    Every task we perform is our gift to the world.  Tasks done in love and compassion are beyond having a value placed on them.  

    When we attempt to estimate our value, we will always fall short of our actual worth.  We are all one-of-a-kind.  No one has ever existed in the history of the world like you. Nor will anyone like you appear in the future.  We each have our own treasure to share with others.  Jesus has value to us not because of who he was but because of what he gave away.  

    It is a useless exercise to compare ourselves to others.  We are God’s sons and daughters.   This identity is what we will take with us when we graduate from this life.  Nothing in this world can ever take that identity away from us.  (Romans 8:38) 

    When we grow beyond the need to make judgments about ourselves or to compare our lives with that of others, we will have found the pearl of great price. Jesus ended our lesson with these words, “Those who are last in this world will be first in the Kingdom and those who need to be first in this life will be last in the Kingdom.”  (Matthew 20:16) 

    All of us have the privilege of allowing God’s spirit to work through us.  Let us make that happen even when we receive no reward for doing so.  This is how God is and this is who we have the potential to be when we choose to live in God’s Kingdom now