Jesus Could Have Told Him (And Did)
Some time ago the story of Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments, made national news by setting his company’s minimum wage at $70,000. In spite of the near-unanimous acclaim he received for the announcement it turns out that it didn’t exactly work well. The New York Times wrote this article saying how badly things have been going for Price and his company. His brother, a partner in the firm, is suing him because this brought profits down. Some of his clients complained that he made them look bad. Worst of all, some of his senior, better paid, employees complained that while they were getting little or no raise, lesser skilled employees were getting big jumps. A few have quit in protest.
The whole matter sounds eerily like Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 where the laborers who had toiled all day felt cheated when those who worked only one hour got paid the same as they did. And the arguments about fairness, about rewards being based on contribution, ring a bell in all of us. In any human sense Price and the master of the house both should have expected exactly what they got.
While I am pretty sure that Jesus, in his grace, is not sitting there in heaven saying “I told you so.” I do think there is a lesson here. We evangelicals like to think our faith is rational but in many ways it is not. We preach self-denial in a world of self-indulgence. Grace, a foundational truth of our faith, is unfair. I remember a woman furiously saying to me “You people make it sound like the only thing that really matters is God’s capacity to forgive!” We are sharing something that makes no sense to most people.
The challenge to our faith in these times is that we preach a very strange message. We are strangers and aliens in this world. Our world today is like Oz; a dazzling multi-color array of wonder. The choices and pleasures available to people today are at a never-before seen level. Our evangelism can come across as a long list of choices that they can’t, or shouldn’t make. We sound like people trying to convince the residents of Oz that they need to move to drab, gray Kansas. (My apologies to people from Kansas, which the one time I visited, actually seemed very nice.)
Before we start coming up with strategies and plans to convince people that our Kansas is actually better than their Oz, no matter what it looks like, I think there is one step we need to take. We need to ask ourselves a key question. How would I react if I worked all day in the hot sun only to find others got the same reward? Or, how would I react if those not working as hard at work as I am got raises while I didn’t?
The Gospel is not a message that tells people that Kansas is better than Oz. It is a message that says whether you are in Kansas or Oz is not the key question at all; that living with Jesus is the only thing that counts. And the only way we can get that message across is to make our living there so attractive that they will ask for directions. I am not sure I am pulling that off very well.