Rain falls on the good and the bad, on those who labor long and on those who labor only for a while. It’s an idea Matthew alone lifts up: rain falling “on the just and the unjust” all at once, just as Matthew alone remembers Jesus telling the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
Rain falls. Like manna from heaven. And sometimes what falls from heaven comes like flood nobody deserves or wants. And sometimes it falls not enough or not at all.
I have a friend in south Alabama with a big front yard full of centipede grass. She struggles to look after it. Has a good-enough sprinkler, one of those little twirling fountains on the end of a water hose, but mostly she forgets to use it.
In the heat of summer, wisdom tells her the grass needs water early in the morning, not late in the day when she comes home from work. She’s a working single parent, often too tired to drag a hose over dry grass. Even inside the house, an old peace lily has to wilt half dead for her to notice it. Dishes pile up. Laundry too.
Her grass has to speak up and get crunchy before she’ll notice it’s dying. She claims it has to go to stick for her to hear it, becoming the kind of grass you might hear underfoot walking toward a graveside service in an August drought. You wonder what her neighbors have to say. Whether they grumble, That woman doesn’t deserve to live on our street. Her yard makes us all look bad. Or whether they wonder how she’s doing raising two kids on her own working overtime.
In the end, ultimately speaking, whether they grumble or not doesn’t matter. Not to her anyway, no matter how much they might wish it did.
Grumbling is a selfish art, a self-serving alienating endeavor, there to defend you against the risk of understanding or caring, there to keep you safe in your own front yard eyeing what everybody else is up to. Truth is grumbling mostly hurts the grumbler not the grumbled against.
That’s what happens in our parable today: it’s the grumblers who lose face, not the workers they grumble about. Take what belongs to you, Jesus tells them. And go. [Off with you, now. Be gone.]
Grumblers are so focused on everybody else’s use of the day, they lose sight of their own day in time. They forget it’s a gift.
Life isn’t fair. Jesus knows that. And doesn’t care. The cross tells us that much. There is much to lament about the world we live in. But there is far more to be thankful for. The people who know this best are the people who overcome the temptation to grumble, who choose instead to give thanks for all our days, for this day and this hour, for life as the great gift.
God doesn’t ask us to deserve it. We can’t. Instead, God asks us to offer it up as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise.
Thinking you deserve something, like grumbling about it, lands you in a place of power: false power, where you start thinking you’re in charge, while sacrifice and praise land you in another place altogether: in the place of losing your life to follow Jesus.
It’s hard for us to get there. Because grumbling is so terribly empowering. Like complaining, it makes you feel right and good but there is no joy in it. Keep grumbling about the way things are, and you’ll forget to enjoy the way things are. Grumble about morning headlines, and you’ll forget to enjoy the day before you, arriving like gift. Grumble about your neighbor’s yard, and you’ll forget to enjoy the grass growing under your own two feet.
Drawing on the oft-sung words of Charles Wesley, you’ll know you’re following Jesus when you’re so lost — so lost! — in wonder, love, and praise, you have no time for grumbling.
My friend with the dry grass loves a heavy rain better than those who water the grass faithfully. I’ve seen sprinklers running when the rain is falling, completely blind to the holy fall of rain. There’s something wrong with that. But I’ve also seen dead grass flush green in the wake of rain. And glory be how right it is.
And when rain falls on the dying centipede of my friend’s front yard, it turns green as any grass in the neighborhood. It looks like she’s been holding the hose all day. It’s only rain. But it’s God’s rain.
In the words of my friend, “When it rains like that, I stop whatever I’m doing. And for a moment I feel the weight of my many blessings. It feels like the generosity of God has come to my door, and I’m so thankful for it, I feel like crying and laughing all at once.”
I do not tell her story to lift up the gift of killing your own front yard or to suggest neglect is a virtue. I tell it to lift up evidence of God’s love and daily provision in your life, the sort of thing that falls where it will and when it will, on the worthy and the unworthy all at once. So let us rejoice and be glad in the usual daily wage of his provision.