Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who gives us what we need rather than what we deserve. Amen.
It always astounds me
how we as humans can make anything into a complaint,
even the most positive of things.
Take our friend Jonah for instance,
out of his mouth comes a formula of praise
we find in the psalms
he says to God:
“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.”
All of these things
seem like something we would want in a God
and yet for Jonah,
these are lamentable characteristics.
It is not satisfying to him
that God is gracious and ready to relent from punishing.
Jonah, the reluctant prophet
wanted to see Nineveh,
the original Sin City,
He wanted them held accountable for their wrong doings
to see the fruits of his prophesy,
the destruction of a great city.
To him it’s not fair
that God would just let all that go.
How quickly the man so recently tossed into the sea
and swallowed by a big fish
forgets the grace of God.
Likewise in Matthew
we have some vineyard workers
who are fortunate enough to be hired at the beginning of the day.
For their work they will receive the common daily wage
and they agree to this before they start.
As the day progresses
the vineyard owner hires more and more people
who agree to work for what is right,
there is plenty of work for all to do.
The end of the day comes
and those hired last are paid first.
The workers who started at the very beginning
see them get the common daily wage,
as do the next to last hired
and they start to get excited,
what will they get for doing eight times the work?
When it’s their turn,
they get what they agreed to,
the common daily wage.
But, but, that’s not fair they complain
we worked all day in the heat
and we don’t get more than the guys that only worked an hour?
How quickly workers who might not have had a job
forget they were hired for the day.
In the kingdom of heaven
people get what they need
rather than what they think they deserve
As we listen to these stories
it is easy to see the foolishness of Jonah and the workers
who presume to be entitled
to what are ultimately gifts from God
Jonah is a laughable character,
his preaching achieves what most prophets only dream of,
people paying attention to their message and changing their ways
and the workers,
they shook on a contract,
why would they expect more than what they agreed on with their employer?
That’s just silly
And yet, if I am honest with myself
If I place myself in the shoes of the workers (Jonah is a little more difficult to imagine)
I am actually no different than the workers.
How many times
have I thought that I would receive more than what I agreed to
just because I was fortunate enough to be hired at the beginning of the day
or became jealous
when others seem to accomplish more with less work
or are compensated in a way that doesn’t seem fair.
And that’s the whole point
Grace isn’t fair
We don’t deserve grace
The key to this whole discussion
I think comes out of the mouth of the vineyard owner.
To the grumbling workers he says
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
In the vineyard of this world
all belongs to God
And God is generous,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Everything we have is from God,
given as a generous gift.
and those hired first
again If I am really honest with myself
I am more like the people of Ninevah than Jonah,
in need of repentance and the mercy of God
and I am really more like those hired last,
who are grateful for just an hour’s work
and astounded at the generosity of a whole days pay
than I am like the ones hired first.
Martin Luther, the great reformer
was one who was well aware of his failings and the grace of God
on his death bed it is reported that his last words were
“We are beggars, this is true.”
We are beggars
but we are beggars with a God who is generous beyond reason,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
who gives us everything that we need and more
and calls us to share what we have been given
with those who hunger and thirst for food and water, grace and mercy.
And God’s actions are not fair,
if the vineyard owner were concerned with equal treatment of his employees
the last hired would have been paid less than the first hired.
But God’s concern is justice,
what is right.
God gives us what we need rather than what we deserve
The vineyard owner agrees to pay what is right to those hired later,
for God what is right
what is just
is that all have enough to eat,
a place to live.
And the way God does this
is through God’s people
who are called to work for God’s justice in the world,
to be generous with what they have been first given
to give people what they need rather than what they deserve
We are called by God to start living out the kingdom of heaven now
And that means at all levels of our lives
On an individual level, in our local communities, in our country and in the world
We are called by God
to make sure that people get what they need rather than what they deserve
And if it doesn’t seem fair
The grace of God, the creator of the universe
Who is merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love. Amen