Feb. 5, 2012
It is disconcerting to learn that goodness does not prevent us from operating out of a blind spot in self-knowledge.
In the cultural context of the Matthew 20 story, introspection and self-examination were not common cognitive activities. I expect that the workers that started at six o’clock thought throughout the day about grapes, and the stubborn mules, and the heat, and, in anticipation, about the denarius each would receive at the end of the day. I doubt that any of them gave much attention to their inner world.
These were good people. When the five o'clock latecomers joined the work crew at the vineyard, I’m sure that a number of them thought kindly, "I'm glad to see John; he won't get much this late, but at least they'll have something at their house tonight for food." I seriously doubt that any one of them consciously thought, “I am certainly superior to that fellow who just came to work."
I doubt even more that any of the good workers could have verbalized the unstated expectation that the employer-worker relationship would support not only their economic need but their need for a sense of personal worth as well. I think they were caught totally unaware at the intensity of the sense of offense they felt when a gift as large as the wages they had earned was given to the "undeserving" five o'clock workers.
At times we are surprised at the anger we feel when conflict strains and eventually breaks a relational connection. Sometimes this unexpected anger startles us into aggressive behavior that we regret and often find difficult to explain.
For the most part, these unwelcome surprises are rooted in the unrecognized expectations that we have invested in the relationship.
If we unconsciously require a relationship to demonstrate that our goodness makes us superior to others, we will inevitably find ourselves angry and disappointed even when the relationship, so to speak, may be “paying” us a fair wage.
We can have no peace with ourselves and no lasting satisfaction in relationships if we have hidden under our goodness the conviction that “I am enough only when I am more than my neighbor, my partner, my friend.”
Thinking with you about the ways in which we ask (and answer) the haunting human question “Am I enough?”
See you next week.