September 20, 2020

Message for September 20, 2020- “A Super Deal!”

(From Matthew 20:1-16)

     I work with a woman who often reflects back upon the time of her childhood.  It seems that, as a child, Dana was always the child that was shorted.  She received the smallest ice cream cone, the worst seat in front of the family TV, and the “dreaded” hand-me-downs outgrown by her older siblings.  Dana was the youngest of three children, and she was convinced that her parents favored her elder siblings over her in many, many aspects of her childhood life.  More than 30 years later, Dana still looks back with resentment at the perceived favoritism she believes her elder siblings received. “It just wasn’t fair to me,” Dana often remarks.

    As a point of reference, I happen to know Dana’s siblings, both of whom have also worked for the company at some point in the past.  They do not recall Dana as having received less than either of them as children; in fact, they recall that her complaining was often met with some means of appeasement, such as another scoop of ice cream added to her cone, or an added piece of candy.  Yet, in Dana’s eyes, in her perception, she recalls being given less than her siblings and treated unfairly.  She still resents that she did not receive what she considers a “fair deal.”

     From the time we were children, most people have been taught about the issue of fairness.  Even at an early age, children will let us know when some matter at hand is “not fair.”  My older brother was allowed to stay up later and watch TV shows that I could not stay up as late to view.  I am sure that I sputtered “that’s not fair” to my parents about this issue on more than one occasion.  As we mature, we come to realize that the greater world around us is not as in-tune to matters of fairness as our cozy nuclear families.  We are also aware, as adults, that not all the powers at play in our world are benign and fair in their purpose. Yet, even so, we strive to obtain equity for ourselves within the greater world to the extent that it is possible and within our ability and control.

     With our worldly experience in view, which is a part of the lens through which we view the world, it should not surprise us that we can judge matters surrounding our faith journey as we judge worldly issues.  This, dear friends, can get us off-track and out of sync with the kingdom of God and how God’s love and grace toward us truly works. It sure caused some issues for the Disciples, when Peter reminded Jesus that he had left everything behind to follow him.  He asked Jesus what he would receive in return.  As you might expect, Jesus answered him with a parable known as “the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.”

     In this parable, a landowner went out early in the morning to hire laborers to work in his vineyard.  Although our translation of this parable does not include a wage, other translations include that the wage was a denarius, which scholars have noted would be a generous daily wage for a laborer.  The workers readily went to work for the landowner.  The landowner went out again at around 9AM, and he hired more laborers for his vineyard.  He did the same at about 3PM and 5PM, and the workers went into the vineyard to labor for him.  At the end of the day, the landowner called those who had been hired last to receive their wage.  He paid these each a denarius, the same generous wage he had agreed to pay those he had hired first.  When they learned this, they expected that they would receive more for the time they had spent laboring for the landowner. Yet, the landowner paid all of the workers a denarius. Those who had worked longer began to complain to the landowner, saying, “These last have worked only an hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”  But, the landowner reminded them that he had paid them the generous wage he had promised them, and he had done them no wrong.  He also reminded them that it should not matter to them if he was also generous to the other laborers, because the wealth was his to spend as he chose. Their envy of the others was unfounded, for they had already received a super deal.

     If this parable has made you feel a bit uncomfortable, I suspect that you are in the company of many others through the ages who have heard it.  It is in our nature to interpret its message from our worldly understanding of equity and a value system that believes more work earns a greater reward.  This, however, is not the perspective of our God, and it is not how God’s kingdom operates.  This view neglects the generosity that was shown to all of the laborers in the parable by the landowner, who paid them all a wage that they could not possibly hope to earn elsewhere.  Each had already received generosity beyond their initial expectation, a super deal.  It was only when they judged what the landowner had given to the other laborers that they became unsatisfied with the amount they had received.  It was the mindset of comparing themselves to others that had caused them their problem.

     Two critical messages for our learning were presented to us in this morning’s parable.  The first message informs us, reminds us, actually, that our God is very, very generous to us.  God shows us grace and mercy beyond anything we could ever possibly hope to earn or deserve.  All who believe and who truly repent of their sin are given an eternal life in God’s kingdom.  That is more than the world can offer, and it is a generous gift from our God indeed!  We receive the joy and security of life in the kingdom of our God from the very moment we first believe.

     The second message for our learning is that God is not like the world, and God is not subject to the world’s value system.  Isaiah 55: 8-9 reminds us, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”  Paul understood the meaning of these words when he told the Corinthians that, here and now, we can see only a dim image, as in a mirror.  We can now, also, know only in part all that will one day be made known to us.  If we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, and to that which we perceive them to have been given, we will miss the beauty of all the grace, mercy and goodness that God willingly and generously gives to each of us.  We are each wonderfully created and uniquely gifted for our life and work in God’s kingdom.  We should not spend our days comparing ourselves to others.  By God’s grace we have already received a super deal.  Instead, as Christians, we should be inviting others into the vineyard, the kingdom of our God, so that by believing they may receive God’s generous gifts of mercy, salvation, and eternal life.  That, dear friends in Christ, is the very substance of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  And, we fulfill that mission whenever we invite one new disciple to follow Jesus, to labor with us in God’s vineyard, and in so doing, to receive a truly super deal.  May God’s people say Amen!

Great is thy faithfulness, God my Creator; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not thy compassions they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. 

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand has provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me. (“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”-words, Thomas Chisholm; music William Runyan; 1923).