16th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
If you are ever between books
and need a story that will make you laugh
I suggest you pull your Bible off the shelf
and read the book of Jonah.
It’s short, only five chapters
and is satire of the other prophetic books.
Jonah upon receiving the call of God
does what most of the other prophets frankly wanted to do,
he runs away.
But as he finds out
he can run but he can’t escape God,
and after a lesson in humility
learned in the stomach of a big fish
he goes and gives the message from God to the Ninevehites,
that in 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.
Now usually people ignore the prophets,
Ezekiel and his brothers busted their buns
trying to get God’s message out and nothing...
and in a way Jonah is counting on this response
because he really doesn’t like Nineveh,
they conquered his own people,
he’d actually like to see them be destroyed by God,
but wouldn’t you know it,
Jonah’s reluctant prophesy works,
the whole city repents
and God decides not to destroy them
and as we heard in our first reading today
this displeases Jonah
and he throws a temper tantrum
“He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’’”
He’s so dramatic,
it makes me laugh every time
and the thing I find most funny
is Jonah’s ability to make God’s virtues
sound like a bad thing.
Jonah, for all his faults knows his scripture,
where God is described as gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and Jonah knows that God really is
gracious and merciful slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love
which is why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh,
because he knew that God would be this way with the Ninevites,
and Jonah didn’t want them to be on the receiving end of God’s grace.
God’s grace makes Jonah angry.
Well it makes him angry
when it’s directed at people he doesn’t think deserve it.
This happens in the parable in our gospel for today as well
with the landowner who keeps hiring people throughout the day,
now in a sense his continual hiring of people
is an act of grace,
each time he goes out into the marketplace
he sees people who want to work,
need to work,
but for some reason have been overlooked for jobs.
Think of it like picking teams on the playground,
the strongest most noticeable are chosen first
and the rest are left on the sidelines to watch,
no matter how much they want to take part.
So it is a matter of grace
that these leftover people
are hired to work for even part of a day,
and he promises to pay them whatever is right,
this of course is determined by the landowner
and I’m guessing that none of those hired later
expected a full days wage,
and yet when it comes time to settle up for the day
the landowner tells the manager of the vineyard
to pay those hired last first,
and to their great surprise they receive a full daily wage,
more than they expected
but surely much needed.
And so it goes on down the line
until those who were hired first are paid,
and they receive,
the usual daily wage.
And they grumble at this,
having seen those hired later get paid
they expected more.
It’s not fair they grumble,
those others don’t deserve to be paid the same as we do,
we did all the work.
And the landowner reminds them
that they are getting exactly what they agreed to
at the beginning of the day,
had the landowner never hired the others
the outcome would still be the same,
and the landowner asks them
“are you envious because I am generous?”
The short answer is ‘yes’ they are.
The longer answer
is that we humans tend to live our lives
from the perspective of scarcity.
Where whether it is true or not,
we think there is only so much to go around before it runs out
and so we hoard what we have and seek to acquire more
and come up with all sorts of ways
to judge who is worthy to use the resources,
who we think should get a piece of the pie
and from this we get our sense of what we think is fair
and this transfers to our idea of justice
where we think people should get what they deserve
and what they deserve is an eye for an eye,
it’s Jonah wanting God to destroy the city of Nineveh
in return for what they had done to his people.
But God views the world differently.
God looks at the world from the perspective of abundance
where resources are shared with everyone
and justice looks like people getting what they need
which they deserve because they are beloved creation of God
and this perspective is in such contrast
with the way of the world
that when it is applied in the world,
it upsets people,
though not I should note,
the people on the receiving end of the grace of God.
Which makes it odd
that anyone should get upset,
because we are all on the receiving end of the grace of God.
If we got what we deserve,
according to our own understanding of justice,
it would be us up on the cross rather than Jesus
and yet on Good Friday,
there Jesus was, for us,
living and dying the truth that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
and that truth continued on through
to Sunday morning and the empty tomb,
and when Jesus appears to his disciples, alive,
he claims them, and all of us who have come after,
for the perspective of God.
Having been claimed by the risen Christ
we are to see the world from the perspective of abundance
where justice is everyone getting what they need.
And not only are we to look from this perspective
We are to make it a way of life
We are to live lives that work to make sure
That people get what they need
Whether the world judges them as worthy or not
And yes, this is difficult because we live in the world
and sometimes the generosity of God upsets people,
and we get angry and dramatic like Jonah
and that’s when Jesus comes to us once again
and gathers us at the table
where all are welcome
and there is enough for everybody
and breaking his body,
pouring out his blood,
Jesus gives us not what we deserve
but what we need,
and then he sends us back out into the world
to live from God’s point of view,
God who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.