I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m a competitive person. When I play games I, I enjoy them much more if it’s a competition. My mother likes to tell people that I became a priest because I just kept going to school until I finally attended one that let me play quarterback…which happened to be on a seminary flag football team. I would like to think I come by my competitiveness honestly, because as a society we are obsessed with scorekeeping. The scores for games we’re not even watching scroll across the bottom of the screen. We keep score in our relationships, figuring up who has done us a favor, and what we owe them in return; who has wronged us or slighted us, and how that affects what we’ll do for them in the future. You owe me, so I owe you. Tit-for-tat. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. No one gets anything for free. Yes, our world is balanced on an economy of exchange, on scorekeeping, on comparing ourselves against one another.
And yet, as David Lose writes, no joy comes from comparisons. All our scorekeeping actually just makes us more miserable. Think about it. You enjoy the car you drive…until you see a neighbor with a nicer or newer one. You love your kids…yet you also wonder how they could be better-rounded or more accomplished, like that one classmate seems to be. As far as I can tell, the only thing that comes from comparisons, from all our obsessive scorekeeping, is envy and resentment, or else a shallow and superficial pride in looking down on others.
This weekend Jesus will tell us a parable about a bunch of laborers, some who work all day, and some who work less, yet all of whom receive the same wages at the end of the day. It’s a metaphor for how God relates to us, and how even those who are drawn into faithful and righteous living later in life are offered the same loving, generous response by God as those who’ve been at it their whole lives. Being a competitive person in a scorekeeping world, it’s a parable I know I need to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and I have a hunch you may need to, as well. That I somehow feel sorry for those frustrated early-adopters in the parable means I have a lot to learn about who God is and how God loves. God wants you and me to absorb deep down in our souls the truth that no joy comes from comparisons, that all our scorekeeping is actually moving us away from the love and mercy of God. Setting down the balance sheet – the tabulation of whether what we have is enough, or how it compares to others, or what we “deserve” – is key to really following Jesus, to knowing true joy, to living and giving generously.
I wonder where scorekeeping has a grip on your life? How much does the word “deserve” dominate your view of the world and of others? How often do you take time to simply marvel at the miracle of your life, and all you have been given, which you had no guarantee or right to expect?
See you this weekend.