What’s in It for Me?

| 29 June 2020

Recently, I asked one of my children if they wanted to run an errand with me. After hearing my question, the first words out of their mouth were, “Are you going to buy me something?” The first words out of my mouth in response to that was, “No.” The next words out of their mouth in response to my response was, “Then I don’t want to go.” And so you have it. I got to spend some quality time with myself.

This notion of wanting to know “What’s in it for me?” is very human and something we can all relate to, is it not? “If I do this, what will I get for it?” “If I don’t do that, what will I lose because of it?” I’m not here to criticize this way of thinking. Rather, what I’d like to point out is that maybe … sometimes … that’s the wrong question (or that at least we should consider asking another one as well). Let me suggest that the other question we should ask is, “Who will I get out of this?”

Jesus starts his parable about the workers in the vineyard with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like …” He’s painting a picture, giving an illustration, but certainly not trying at all to be comprehensive in his description. In explaining that the landlord (aka King) is generous and can do whatever he wants, he draws attention to the fact that the guys hired first were ticked off because they didn’t feel they were being treated fairly. (Now, there’s nothing wrong with being concerned about fairness, I’m not saying that.)

As I read this parable, it dawned on me that the laborers were thinking transactionally rather than relationally. I don’t want to read too much into these verses and thereby arrive at things that aren’t there, but one thing that is there is the reality that the first group of guys hired had the opportunity and privilege to work with and for the landowner longer than anyone else. What they got, more than all the rest, was more of the “who.” But oddly enough, they complained that they felt short-changed because they didn’t get enough of the “what.” I wonder — had they been thinking relationally rather than transactionally — if they would have complained, or even been concerned at all about what they did or didn’t get in comparison to the others? And would they have actually felt bad for the others who didn’t get as much of the “who” as they did? Just some things to chew on.

Here’s the point for today: Let’s not let our preoccupation with the “what” keep us from fully enjoying the “who.” I only wish one of my kids felt the same way.

Scott Smith
Pastor of Discipleship Ministries