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Humans Want This More Than Food

Is it possible that humans crave superiority more than food?

In Jesus' parable of the landowner (Matthew 20:1-16), all those hired by the landowner craved food. If the landowner did not hire them, they would go hungry. By the day's end, after their stomachs were assured their next meal, the most significant issue burning in their hearts was superiority. They were angry with the man who had saved their empty stomachs, not because he was dishonest, but because he was generous. "You've made these men who came late equal to us!" (Matthew 20:12), they complained to the landowner. How quickly we forget our desperation. When we are hungry, all we care about is not starving. When we are assured of continued survival, we return to the rat race for superiority.

In the desperate struggle for life, there is much more than the physical appetite to consider. In desperation, many otherwise good men will do evil deeds to survive. But this isn't true of everybody. Some people will starve rather than do evil, though these people are few. What separates men in the struggle for survival? The separation is between those who know the source of their value and those who do not.

As bad as hunger pains may be (I confess that I don't really know what it means to be physically hungry), I believe the fear of failure is greater than the fear of starvation. Few things communicate worthlessness, like starving a man to death. Someone recently told me that a parent had said to their child, "You aren't worth the gunpowder it would take to blow you away." Such a statement is a deadly curse, much like starving a man to death.

Deliberately starving a man communicates that he is worse than worthless. Even starving from happenstance is a great shame for men. The landowner in Jesus' parable hired out of compassion for desperate men; He did not need to hire laborers for his field. For this reason, the landownder returned to the marketplace to rescue men from hunger and shame. By employing these men, the landowner placed a double value on them: they had valuable skills and, more importantly, they were men and, for that reason, shouldn't be allowed to go hungry.

The value of laborers in this story comes from the landowner alone.

All of our talents and abilities are nothing unless someone takes notice. The whole world seeks notoriety. We celebrate celebrities because we want to be celebrated ourselves. We want someone to place value on us. We step on one another and cut each other down because we fear insignificance. We are starving men fighting each other for crumbs. Starving men do not have the means to meet the needs of others. The great act of the landowner in Jesus' parable is his compassion for the desperate and helpless. And this generous behavior of the landowner, says Jesus, "is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like." (Matthew 20:1). This is how God exercises His authority from His position of superiority. This revelation of God's character is extremely good news.

In the parable, only the landowner is in a position of power to rescue or crush desperate men. And when the generous man saves us, woe to us who forget from where our value comes. Since we have received mercy, we must repent of the drive for superiority. Our value comes from what God has placed upon us, and it cannot be added to or taken away. The foolish pride, the laborers, had in themselves was greater than their compassion for fellow men by the end of the day. They had quickly forgotten the grace that provided their rescue.

People say that Christians can't have demons. But the parable of the landowner is a story of desperate men rescued and restored but still plagued by familiar spirits of pride and insecurity. Why do these men return to the drug of superiority after so great a rescue from shame and suffering? They still needed to fully repent and recognize what the landowner had done for them. These men had experienced amazing grace but were still slaves to the old thought patterns of their hearts and minds. We still need rescue and renewal even after the initial taste of grace. John, the evangelist, described knowing Jesus as "grace upon grace." (John 1:16). On the day of our salvation, we are only starting to comprehend the meaning of the word "grace."

Only a few hours removed from desperation, the rescued men lost all compassion for those who still suffered like their former selves. But even this shameful behavior met with more profound grace:

"Take what is yours and go!" Says the landowner (Matthew 20:14).

He doesn't say, "You jerk. You are fired!" But rather, he says, "Take what is yours" and be satisfied.

Value has been placed upon us and cannot be taken away except by our own determination that true love is not enough. To try to take away God's grace for others is to saw off the branch on which I sit.

I am loved, and that is enough.

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