"So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner." - Matthew 20:10-11
Football. Baseball. Basketball. Soccer. Sports teach lots of lessons.
There's one lesson, though, that I don't remember learning and that I rarely hear much about. It's the lesson on the power of a loss to invalidate time.
I remember one time on a Saturday, my favorite college football team lost on the very last play of the game. Then on Sunday, my favorite pro football team lost on the very last play of the game. On Monday, my favorite pro baseball team lost on the very last at bat of the other team. Though I didn't watch the whole game of any of those three games, they were a combined twelve hours of the best contests that any sports fan could ever hope to see. But because of the power of a loss to invalidate time, that twelve hours turned into the biggest waste of time a human being could ever experience. The power of a loss to invalidate time says that time slipped away because of my team losing.
That's the tragedy in today's Bible reading. The workers who were hired first worked twelve hours that day. Clearly, in the parable, they should have been the most glorious twelve hours that a human being could experience. But in creeps the power of a loss to invalidate time. The workers who were hired first and worked twelve hours saw that those who got hired later and worked a lot less got paid what the first workers were promised they'd get paid. So when the first workers saw that they got paid exactly as all the others, then the first workers felt that they'd lost, and that loss totally invalidated the time they'd worked in the garden.
Lesson: No it doesn't. A loss at the end doesn't invalidate all the great things that preceded it.
My three favorite teams lost in the end, but the loss does not invalidate the fact that they played amazing games that both my son and I will remember forever. The Atlanta Braves suffered one of those losses, and it ended their season, but the loss doesn't invalidate the fact that they had a terrific season. The first workers in the parable thought they might get more in the end, but their perceived loss of pay does not invalidate the fact that they had a wonderful day in God's garden.
Too bad they refused to see it that way.
Friends, sometimes the ending is not what you had in mind to start with, but God sees to it that the loss at the end doesn't invalidate the good things that preceded the end.
A forced retirement or job transition doesn't invalidate all the good work that you did over the course of your career. A failed test doesn't invalidate the things that you did learn, (but you probably need to learn a wee bit more before the next test. :-) )
And Jesus's death on the cross doesn't invalidate all that he revealed and taught, along with all the people that he saved and healed before he was crucified. In fact, his loss on the cross opened the door to a victory for us which gave eternal life now and everlasting time with God.
Do you see the irony? In Jesus Christ, the power of a loss or bad ending (the cross) is the power both to validate all that preceded it and also to give back even more time to those who will believe.
So, come what may today, remember that a bad ending doesn't invalidate all the good things before it, and, as we see in Jesus, that bad ending may just be the beginning of something better.
"The gospel is the story of Jesus [what God's only Son has done for us that we can't do for ourselves], spoken as a promise." - Robert Jenson