A doctor died and went to heaven. As he stood in a very long line at the pearly gates, he decided that because of his service to humanity he should not have to wait in line. He left the line and approached the gate. At the gate St. Peter explained that all are equal in the eyes of the Lord and he should wait in line. “All of my service to humanity the lives I have saved. The quality of life I’ve restored,” he muttered as he returned to his place in line.
A few minutes later a woman in a white lab coat with a doctor’s bag rushed past, nodded to St. Peter, the gates flew open, in she went, and the gates closed.
This was too much for the doctor and he went to complain that another doctor didn’t have to wait. St. Peter said, “Please understand the doctor that just entered was God. Sometimes she likes to play doctor.”
Entitlement is an attitude of “I’m owed.” It is apparent in beliefs such as these: “I’m a college graduate, so I deserve a high-paying job.” “I’ve been good to my friends, so they owe me their loyalty.” “I am a senior citizen, so I deserve younger people’s respect.” “We weren’t put on this earth to suffer, so life owes me a break.”
To some degree, we all have entitlement feelings. We carry around a sense of being owed for something we have done or for some wonderful trait we have. When we feel entitled, we focus on what we are owed, not what we might give.
When these feelings are strong and people don’t meet our expectations, we often find ourselves bitter, resentful, and angry. Relationships can be (and often are) destroyed by feelings of entitlement. Please be careful about feeling you’re owed more. We want to check ourselves when it comes this. The Lord gives us a lot; demanding more is often a step too far.
Society continues to bombard us with the message that we are such fantastic people, we are entitled to an equally fantastic way of living. We’re fed this perspective almost non-stop. There’s no getting around it. We’re confronted daily with its message. You remember the old jingle from McDonalds? “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away to McDonalds.” It’s harmless, until it’s repeated endlessly.
Be aware of how much you’re hearing that you need or want more. Let’s keep instead to a God-centered view of ourselves and what’s important.
The Lord offers us real blessings that matter and are what we really need. We deserve, sure, but what and how much?
One of my favorite teachers in elementary school was my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Carreon, a good teacher who maintained a strong sense of order in class but who genuinely cared about each of us. On the first day of school she asked us to line up for lunch and there was a mad scramble to get to the front of the line. After we had lined up, Mrs. Carreon went to the back of the line, smiled and said, “This is the front of the line,” and led the class to lunch. I still remember the surprised grin on the face of the kid who suddenly found herself in the front of the line, as well as the angry response from someone at the back of the line: “This is so annoying!”
The next day when we lined up for lunch, we all scrambled to be last in line, so Mrs. Carreon went to the middle of the line and said, “Today this is the front of the line.” Eventually we all got the message and the scrambling to be first stopped. No more trying to express one’s sense of entitlement.
Easy lesson to learn in school—hard lesson to learn in life.
I like what one mom said was the way she parented her child. “Instead of communicating “I love you, so let me make life easy for you,” I decided that my message needed to be something more along these lines, “I love you. I believe in you. I know what you’re capable of. So I’m going to make you work.” Gotta start early to get that right message.
Feeling entitled obviously does something to our view of God. From this viewpoint, God is reduced to the Someone who helps me get what I believe I am entitled to. In our world, this often means we have a right to material abundance, comfort, zero-problems, the nice house and all the other things our society tells us we deserve.
Too often people believe this because of churches where the Bible is read from this direction. Pastors and preachers have contributed to this by telling people that God will meet all their needs and give them all that they want or desire if they give their lives to Jesus.
Though I believe God gives us gifts and wants to meet our needs, this is not the heart of the gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The sad truth is that many people leave this type of supposed Christian faith because “God didn’t work.” The Lord was a means to get what they feel they were entitled to but when this didn’t happen it was a simple decision to move on to the next thing.
It’s obvious this is wrong because if I were to be blunt—and I will—God owes us nothing, except to be God. God gives because of who the Lord is. God’s the center of all things and we are not. And if I am going to bring you all the way up to the heights of Christian theology I have to tell you the final piece, the highest truth that you simply don’t hear often, or often enough: All things exist for God’s good pleasure.
The Good News is that even though God owes us nothing, out of God’s great love the Lord will give us what we need and even things we desire.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Thank God for what you have and are today. Pursue contentment. Enjoy life as it is rather than longing for a day when things will be better. Count the number of “whiners” you encounter in a day. Notice their sense of entitlement and be determined to be different.
In our parable Jesus talks about a landowner who needs workers for his vineyard and one day goes into town multiple times and hires workers for his vineyard.
At the end of the day the landowner does three things that reveal this isn’t just any old landowner. First, he pays the last people he hired before anyone else; second, he pays them a full days’ wages. He then proceeds to
pay everyone else the exact same amount, including those who had worked all day long. While apparently those who worked less than a full day responded gratefully, there was an angry, visceral response by those who were paid last. Jesus says, “They grumbled against the landowner.”
At the parable’s conclusion, the full-day workers don’t moan they have been cheated out of money. They’ve been cheated out of something else. They complain to the landowner, “You have made them (the one-hour workers) equal to us.”
It’s not the generosity or the extravagance that makes them angry. It’s being made equal to people who weren’t their equal before this that makes them embittered. They’re caustic because by dealing generously with “those” people, a group of people no other manager in town considered worth the trouble of hiring, the landowner made a clear declaration about “those” people’s value, their worth—and of course the entitled workers value and worth. The landowner’s undue kindness thus denies the full-day laborers the bonus they think they can claim—a sense of privilege or superiority. There are no longer those who are better and those who are worse.
God refuses to justify our sense that we are more than others or that others are less than us, that we are entitled to the more we have because of
how much better we are. Nobody is such a nobody or too good that they aren’t equal to everyone else. Nobody is such a nobody or too good that they don’t need to work and contribute.
The truth is the parable asserts only one essential truth, whether you came first and got what you agreed to or came late and got more than you expected: God is doing no wrong.
God is doing no wrong. The Lord remains free and clear of all charges, because God has given us the two things we need: Life and the unalterable sense from the beginning that we are worthy and lovable. The first is a fact, the second is the truth. Our worth comes from the Lord. Love comes from the Lord. Nobody can take these away. Nobody can change God’s view of you.
Let go of the entitlement mentality. It’s not needed, and it causes only problems. It binds us to unhappiness because of unfulfillable expectations. Place yourself where you belong, within God’s will and grace for your life. Stay humble before the Lord and you receive goodness and kindness.
Can the church say Amen?