Last fall, my wife did a sermon series at her church about Mr. Rogers and his ministry and message as a children’s television programmer.
As part of preparing for her sermons, we both watched a number of documentaries that have come out in recent years.
One thing I was amazed to learn about was that Rogers had a few critics, which is odd.
Apparently one critic was a finance professor named Don Chance who became fed up with students constantly begging for extra points. He opined, “They felt so entitled, and it just hit me. We can blame Mr. Rogers.”
Chance wanted his students to understand that “the world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you’ll have to prove it.”
Another critic, in an article in “Psychology Today,” complained that Mr. Rogers lied to her. She blamed him for her failure to stick with a job, writing.
“Thinking of myself as special has led me to 10 different jobs over two years because I have been, and still am, searching for that dream job – the one that pays me what I want and lets me do what I want – the one that makes me feel really special.”
What both these critics fail to appreciate is that Mr. Rogers’ message was not one of entitlement. It wasn’t a message that the world owes you something. It was not a message which said it is the world’s job to make you feel special.
It wasn’t any of that.
Rather his message was one of equality. Mr. Rogers imparted the notion that we are equally loved, equally special, equally unique, equally worthy of being loved.
Mr. Rogers didn’t just preach that message, he lived it and he modeled it.
As one author on Mr. Rogers and his message has written, “Mr. Rogers taught children their specialness stems from ‘inherent value.’ Since inherent value is in all of us, no one at their core is especially different.”
As we turn our attention toward the scripture, there are a number of different messages we might take from the parable which we read earlier, the parable of Jesus and the workers in the vineyard. One of them, I believe, is a message of equality.
The parable makes us squirm a bit. Especially when we see ourselves as those earlier laborers, the ones who were hired in the morning. The challenge of the parable is how it puts the early laborers on equal footing with the Johnny-come-latelies, the ones who only work for an hour.
Eventually the whistle blows. The work day is over. And it’s time to pay up.
Now most of us think, equal pay for equal work, right? Which means those who worked less should be paid less because that’s just how you run a business. That’s how you treat workers fairly. That’s the way the world works.
And yet, that’s not the way this parable works.
The owner pays the last workers the exact same wage the first-hour workers were promised. And so – as the first-hour workers wait and as they anticipate – it’s only natural for them to think their pay will be higher, in accordance with the generosity shown to the last-hour workers.
But the shocker is they get the same wage, the exact pay they were promised.
It leaves most of us feeling just a little bit perturbed, especially if we’ve always thought about God and the structure of the world in terms of status and privilege, of insiders and outsiders, of merit and pay on the basis of what we have earned.
We might resort to counting, but God does not because the fabric of the kingdom of God is grace. And the currency of the kingdom of God is love, love which has created each one of us in the image of God, with inherent self-worth and has blessed each of us as beloved children of God.
This parable confronts us with a message that “centers on God’s generosity and on grace that is given to all equally.”
I think we could all stand to go back and learn once again at the feet of Mr. Rogers who reminds us what really matters saying, “Love is the root of everything. All learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”
So, friends, let us redouble our efforts to guard our hearts in the ways of love, to show and be love in this world, trading only in the currency of love, in the name of our God of love, whose love has been revealed to us in Jesus his son and has been sealed within us by the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.