By Jennifer Johnson
In her memoir Lit, Mary Karr quotes her father speaking about the well-off: “Born on third base, . . . and they think they hit a home run.”
I was born on second base, at least, and when I was a kid the game was black and white. People who don’t have jobs should get them, if you’re a responsible and hard-working person you will be able to afford a place to live, and only those with lesser character would need a hand up or a handout. I never heard things put so starkly by my parents, both of them generous, kind souls with, I’ve realized as an adult, plenty of appreciation for the gray nuances of reality. But wherever and however these messages originated, they were ones I absorbed growing up in a mostly white, mostly white-collar community.
I’d like to think my own capacity for compassion has also increased with the years, but I was amazed when Tom Pittmon began listing the ways New Mexico Christian Children’s Home helps the single parents accepted into their program: free housing, free utilities, free groceries. Help with tuition. Help finding a job. (See related article.) My first thought was how wonderful this opportunity is for these families, how truly life-transforming it could be. And then my second thought was my husband’s six-figure student loan, a loan we will die with, a loan no one prevented by giving him money and meals.
I’m not proud of that second thought, but I bet I’m not alone in having it. When I read the parable of the workers in Matthew 20, I sympathize with the all-day laborers who earn the same as those hired at five in the afternoon. The landowner’s question in verse 15 stings: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Yes, you do. Yes, I am. Why couldn’t I have only worked an hour? And when will someone pay for Matt’s education?
However, one of the many problems with this way of thinking is it focuses on only one aspect of the other person’s experience. Sure, those latecomers received the same pay for less work, but they also spent most of the day wondering how they would feed their children. The last-minute hire was a gift, but it followed hours of grief. I may need to write hundreds of checks for thousands of dollars, but I’ve never spent one night sleeping in my car, one day going without food so my children could eat, or one month without a job. I already have a college education, a home, a life I’ve chosen. How can I begrudge God’s economy that gives the same to someone else?
God can do whatever he wants to do with his money, his grace, his kingdom. He hired me early in the day, he started my life with a solid hit right up the middle, and I didn’t deserve either one. So I choose to be grateful, and glad that a few more people are getting a second chance at bat.