I’m an occasional participant in the gig economy. I like to get my hustle on and make a little scratch, so when there’s some extra time, I’ve been known to pick up a delivery service order or two.
One day last summer I decided to be ambitious, mostly because we’d had some unexpected expenses and debt quickly becomes slavery. I decided to bust out a few deliveries and bring in a few dollars. It was ninety-some degrees, though, with no AC, and the orange barrels were out in force. After a long day, I was ready to call it quits, but made up my mind to take one more order. Then it happened: McDonald’s. That McDonald’s. The one that never has its act together.
When I parked next to the golden arches, I knew I was in for trouble. The place was packed. I waited and waited. Their system was clearly down. I waited some more. I was going to be late—way late. I knew the customer wouldn’t be happy. I certainly wasn’t happy, even as I felt bad for the restaurant workers, having been on their end of things in my younger years.
Finally, the food came up. I tried to confirm the contents with the worker. He said, “What’s supposed to be in it?” I told him. He said, “Yeah, that’s what’s in it.” He said it with all the confidence of someone who had no clue and other things to do.
I pulled out of the parking lot. I soon pulled into an apartment complex in a rough part of town. I was hot and tired and just wanted to be done. I took a deep breath and got ready to get chewed out for being late.
The customer was waiting for me at the door with a smile. I apologized right away, explained what had happened, and warned her that the order might be wrong. I told her to take a look and make sure. She opened the sealed bag. It was wrong. She didn’t care.
My eyes are too often evil, and yet God is always good.
The whole time, she’d been holding a $20 bill. She tried to give it to me right away, but I’d told her to check the order. She just laughed when she noticed their mistake. She said, “Take the money, honey. It’s not your fault. I got the food I was meant to get.” I told her she didn’t need to do that. She insisted. The money was mine.
That customer intended to give me that money no matter what, however late I was, however wrong the order was. I wondered if she’d ordered something just to get that money into someone else’s hand. She had a big smile and happy eyes the whole time.
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20, all the workers had stood idle when they were hired. They were in a desperate situation. There was no food to put on the table, and the master changed that. Yet, when the workers who had been hired first for no reason but the master’s kindness, saw that those who came later were paid the same generous amount, they were jealous. The master knew this. The King James translates his response well: “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Matt. 20:15) And we’ve all been those jealous workers. And God has always been good.
Pretty early on my kids learned not to complain about things not being fair. Whenever they’d lament, “That’s not fair,” I’d counter, “You know what’s not fair?” They knew what was coming: “Jesus on the cross for your sins.” I’m not necessarily recommending my approach, but it’s an approach that does involve telling the truth: life with God isn’t fair. God gives good gifts to underserving workers. God gives good gifts to all of them. He gives them out of love. He intends to give them whether they are late or not, whether the work is good or not, because it’s not about works. It’s about grace.
That lady was going to give me that $20 bill no matter who I was or what I did. She was standing there, smiling with happy eyes, eager to show kindness, and there was no changing her mind. I don’t know whether she was a Christian or not, but she taught me something Christ is teaching us with this parable.“Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” Yes, my eyes are too often evil, and yet God is always good. With that in mind, here’s my advice to you, given me by a friend I met on a miserable summer day: “Take the money, honey.”