When my nephews were young children, I watched an interesting interplay at a family gathering. Drew was happily playing with one of many toys scattered about on the living room floor. His younger brother Ben picked up another toy, and began to play with it. Before you could blink, Drew yanked that toy out of Ben’s hand with a definitive: “MINE” and began to play with that. Easy going Ben kind of shrugged a picked up a different discarded toy. You know what happened next. “MINE!” as Drew grabbed that toy out of Ben’s hands. Everything on the floor, apparently, was Drew’s. And when mom or dad would intervene and say: “Drew, play nice; share the toys”, his fist would wrap tighter around them and say: “I don’t want to share,” he protests. “It’s mine.”
It’s mine, all mine! For better or worse, don’t we all experience, perhaps in less obvious ways in our adult lives that temptation toward mistaken ownership? The job we have, the relationship we are in, the education we were afforded, even the neighborhood we are privileged to live in, these are all gifts, all graces that were given to us. Yet it is so easy to treat them as our ‘right’, or possession, property. It’s mine, all mine. How easy it is to slide into that ‘possession equals ownership’ mentalilty.
Jesus told a story, recorded in our Gospel lesson today, about some tenant farmers who made this very mistake. They worked hard in a vineyard, toiling in the heat of the day to help bring about a fine harvest of grapes. And when the time came to gather in the bumper crop, they were overjoyed at the abundance, and considered it the fruit of their own labor, their rightful possession. Somewhere during the hot growing season these tenant farmers forgot that the entire vineyard actually belonged to someone else, someone who had invested in the land, planted the vines, provided the infrastructure of walls, watchtowers, and wells—all of this long before the first worker arrived in the vineyard to work. They forgot that they would not have had a job at all were it not for the generosity of the vineyard owner hiring them to work in the first place. It’s mine, all mine, comes their terrible response, as they mistreat those sent to collect the owner’s portion. “No,” Jesus’ story tells us, “It is never about mine.”
Here is the real truth Jesus wants us to know; we are not owners, none of us. The real owner is God—always has been, always will be. We are all just caretakers, tenants, stewards for the real owner. Do we have work to do in this stewardship? Sure we do. But our hard work does not earn us ownership, it simply fulfills our role of service to the owner. At the end of the day, when the harvest is in, can we be grateful that we had the opportunity to toil in the vineyard in the first place?
And to make sure we get that message, God sends his most valuable gift – his beloved son, Jesus. Because only love this vulnerable can quiet the mutiny of the tenants laying claim to the divine bounty. God wants to transform and heal our clenched fists. So he does it by His Son’s open palms upon the cross. How do we move from ‘mine’ to stewardship? By opening our hands to receive, not to possess.
So this week, I encourage you to do two things:
1) Look for the ways the attitude of MINE creeps into your heart and life. When you are resistant to share; when you hesitate to praise another for what they have done; when you find yourself defensive – it usually is because we have our fists closed around SOMETHING claiming it as our own.
2) Practice a bit of gratitude – look over ‘the vineyard that is YOUR life’. Not from the eyes of my nephew in his terrible ‘mine’ stage, but from the eyes of a God who asks: “What more is there for me to do for my vineyard, that I have not done?” Make one connection a day this week to the surprising, amazing love that the Father has lavished upon you, upon all of us.
You see, God has prepared the vineyard of our lives, so they may bear fruit. And in the end, it does not matter how or where you respond. Only that you do.