Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 20, 2020
Year A, Proper 20: Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Exodus 16:2-15; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 20:1-16
Our gospel today begins with Jesus telling a parable. It’s fair to say that many of us struggle to understand the parables of Jesus, because somehow they just don’t seem to make sense. We need to remember that parables are stories that Jesus uses to point to what the kingdom of God looks like; he tells us that very specifically in this Gospel.
Many of us understand harvests. Grape harvests are happening right now. We know that time is of the essence – as many hands as possible as needed to get the ripe grapes harvested before they start to dry out or fall off the vine. It’s very labor-intensive work. Day laborers come in very early and work very hard – 10-12 hours wouldn’t be unusual. Then comes the time to be paid. That’s when it gets interesting – the person next to me who rolled in an hour ago just received the same wage I got for my 12 hours.
Oh, no. You can best be sure that the people who worked all day are upset. They worked harder, they worked longer, they deserved more. Or at least those others deserve less. I’m sure those who worked longer and harder were quick to conclude that the landowner was being unfair. It goes against our sensibilities or what is just and fair because our lives are very connected to what we believe we are worth, what our work is worth, how we are to be valued. That’s the world we live in – where our value and worth is closely connected to a monetary value. That’s the world that the first-century hearers of this parable lived in. There was an extreme poverty rate at that tie with a very distinct religious system. And generally, those who could live out the law were those who had the money to do so.
In our own society, we may not have the religious distinctions that existed in the time of Jesus, but we certainly have power divides. We have nationality divides. We have all kinds of entitlement divides. And this parable is providing us with a really difficult and hard lesson. Because it’s reminding us that in the kingdom, there is no entitlement. The value of who we are is implicit in God’s love for us, that love as I said is given freely and humble.
One thing I’ll say for sure about the parables that Jesus tells. If he tried to use them in a college econ class, I’m pretty sure he would fail because the economics of God and the kingdom are nothing like the economics we study.
And thank God for that. Because what Jesus is saying that in the divine economy of God, in the kingdom of God, there is no distinction for God for people who think they’re more worthy than others. God’s love is given freely. All of us need love. All of us are worthy of love.
If we think about it, the Parable of the Vineyard is like the parable of the Prodigal Son. The older son is incensed that the young brother who squandered his inheritance is welcomed home with an unabashed lavishness by his father. I can hear the older son now saying, “but it isn’t fair.” Be honest, how many times have we heard that or said it.
But these two parables bring us to the extravagant, generous love that we find in Jesus Christ. And that kind of generosity is not something easily understood. Because our human nature is to anticipate a quid pro quo situation; we do something, we get something in return and in proportion to what we have done.
We tend to relegate generosity, even worthiness, to accountability – to measurability.
This parable is a reminder of the absolute gift of generosity that does not demand response, that does not account for reciprocity, that does not need to be, indeed cannot be, measured.
This parable is about the generosity of grace and love that is the kingdom of God.
It’s really difficult to live into and understand exactly because we can’t define it and we can’t compute it.
But this parable reminds us that God loves all of us deeply and profoundly. God’s generosity is beyond our wildest imagination. Theirs is nothing we have done or can do to earn or deserve God’s generosity.
Can we learn to see through the eyes of God?
Can we set aside our ideas of what is just and unjust?
The parable calls us to look at ourselves honestly and lovingly, as God looks at us. It invites us to turn from holding grudges, to let go of the stuff of our lives that keeps us from being joy-filled and grateful people.
Here’s a review of the lessons of the economics of God:
- Remember the goodness of God and be thankful.
- God provides. God provides.
- We are to work to live, not live to work.
- God cares about everybody’s welfare.
We have a hard time learning these lessons in divine economics, just as the Israelites in the wilderness forgot God’s deliverance and failed to recognize manna for the gift it was. They grumbled.
We have a hard time learning these lessons, just as the all-day workers were enraged when the boss paid everybody the same, the usual daily wage, and put nothing extra in their envelopes. They grumbled.
Sunday by Sunday, Christians gather to learn and learn again the economics of God through what happens in this place. We learn lessons of the divine economy in order to put them into practice. We must practice some economy. Which one shall it be?
God reveals to us the economy characteristic of the divine reign so that by grace we may pursue on earth the way that prevails in heaven, a way shown to us even today.
There’s Good News for us in today’s gospel. Regardless of how we separate ourselves in life, all of us are deserving of God’s love. That love connects us and creates this incredible sense of connection and that is echoed in today’s gospel.
Living in Christ, living in the kingdom of God means looking beyond our self-interest, and accepting the challenges that comprise the real world we live in. Part of those challenges includes remember that regardless of whatever divides us, we belong to one another. Regardless of someone being a stranger, we are connected. When someone is in need, we are all in need.
Living into the kingdom is about remembering that regardless of whatever separates us, wherever we are from, we belong to one another in God.
That is how we fully move into the world.
If the kingdom is a place where we are all valued for who we are, if the kingdom is a place where love triumphs, and if the kingdom is what we aspire to, then we have to choose in this world to belong to one another. Where we make a conscious decision to drop the barriers as best we can and we look at each other as belonging.
That’s the offering of finding value in the divine economy of the kingdom of Christ. Of finding our belonging, our salvation in Jesus Christ and the way of love.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.