Seven questions stood in our way. Seven questions and seven correct answers between my trivia team and the coveted jackpot.
For 23 weeks, no teams had won and as it increased by $50 after each loss, the jackpot was always just out of reach.
Almost addicted, we had rocked up to the same pub every Tuesday night, in eager expectation that the jackpot topic would be on one of our niche obsessions.
Led Zeppelin, 1950s film directors, Toto, Sandra Bullock or Germany – any of these would suffice.
Yet, every Tuesday night, we would fall short of that perfect score. Then, last Tuesday night, the $1,150 voucher was hanging there.
“This is ours,” we all thought. “We deserve this.”
The topic was surprisingly un-niche: Game of Thrones. We had some experts, but not expert enough for Question #7: ‘Where was the first season of Game of Thrones filmed?’
Writing down a guess, we knew we hadn’t won. But another team had.
Someone else had won OUR jackpot. This couldn’t be fair.
Except it was.
These feelings of jealousy, of entitlement and being robbed were so strong. It wasn’t just disappointment with our lack of Game of Thrones knowledge, but a hint of bitterness towards those who had won. How dare they.
Yet, we were never entitled to that $1,150, no matter how many Tuesdays we rocked up. No matter how many weeks we were one off from the perfect score. What mattered was something that we kept failing to deliver: the correct answers.
As I think back to last Tuesday, I notice something concerning in myself. A source of comfort for me was that the actual winners of the jackpot were regulars at trivia – at least they had deserved it, having worked as hard as we had.
But had some random team rocked up and won that bounty without having been through the 23-week marathon it took to seize that growing lump-sum – well, I know I would’ve seen red.
Jesus saw this rotten tendency. This rotten, human, tendency. In the parable that convicts me most, Jesus tells of a vineyard owner who hires workers throughout the day and then pays them all the same rate (Matthew 20:1-16).
Jesus says, “So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.”
This line almost feels awkward to read, about the same pay provided to those who worked all day and those who only worked for one hour.
I want to protest, justify to Jesus why the workers who only worked an hour don’t deserve the same as someone who has worked ten.
I’m embarrassed by this answer because I know how wrong it is.
I guess it’s because I am these workers in the story, as I grumble about not winning that jackpot.
When I work hard at something, I love being rewarded more than those who haven’t. Being happy for others when they get something they don’t deserve, certainly does not come naturally to me. Especially if I think I could have done it just as well, or better.
And so, the real kicker comes at the end of the parable when the landowner responds to the grumbling workers by asking, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
I’m embarrassed by this answer because I know how wrong it is. I’m also horrified, because that question brings forward the festering sin of envy within me.
In just two sentences, the selfishness and bitterness of my attitudes towards others and towards God’s generosity are exposed.
With the kingdom of God being represented by the landowner’s actions, the point isn’t that he is generous to some, but he is generous to all.
This should drive all of us to back to what God does for us through Jesus. As I look again into the face of Jesus’ generosity towards us, how awful is it that we can be angry and envious of what others also receive.
I’m both the grumbling worker but also the worker who received the most generous pay. Nothing I’ve done has ever earned me my salvation; it’s all through Jesus’ generosity in giving up his life for me.
It’s a hard parable to read, but I think I’m learning to look at others, not as competitors or rivals, but as those who also are loved by a generous God.
So, every Tuesday, I’m going to keep needing to be reminded of this parable as the jackpot starts climbing up again.