Friday, 10 February 2006

Matthew 20:1-16

MATTHEW 20:1-16

I'm with the labourers here. It seems so unfair. Some of them worked 10 hours; some of them worked 1 hour - and they both get the same pay. We should clearly get the unions involved on this one.

That is how we are meant to react: and yet Jesus, in telling this story, is challenging us.

1. Jesus challenges us to learn that God is sovereign

It is the landowner's vineyard; it is the landowner's money and it is the landowner's call.

The landowner is free to invite who he wants to work in his vineyard, when he wants and to give them what he wants.

He is not unfair

The landowner gives to the people who have been working for only one hour one denarius. He gives the people who have been working all day one denarius. They think: "Huh. We deserve to get more than them. It's not fair"

And yet the landowner is being completely fair: Early in the morning, he had gone to the labour market - and in many economies you can still find this happening, the people gathering in one place waiting to be hired as casual labour - and he had agreed a price with the people who he hired. One denarius. It was a fair price, a day's salary. And at the end of the day he was fair; he gave them what he had agreed to give to them.

But they are not satisfied. They think: 'They got given one denarius for one hour's work. We should get much more'. The pound signs (or denarius signs) flash in front of their eyes. And when they don't get it, they grumble.

It is so like us. We constantly compare ourselves with others. And as a result we become bogged down by resentment, envy, jealousy or - the other side of the coin - false pride. We look at others, at what they have got - whether that is in terms of talents or possessions or life opportunities - and we either become arrogant or resentful. And as we become resentful, we start to grumble: we complain that life is unfair.

This is the logic that, when things go wrong, leads us to say, "Why me?" It could equally lead us to say, "Why not me?"

We need to learn
  
That God is sovereign: God is the landowner. Everything that we are and have comes from him and belongs to him. It is his Kingdom, his resources and his call. And for reasons that are beyond our understanding, God will give to one person 5 talents and to another person 1 talent; and God will invite some people to come and work in his vineyard, in his field, at the first hour and some at the eleventh hour. And it is not because he loves one person more than another: he loves you the way he made you

The profound spiritual quality of 'minding our own business'. Everything that we have is GIFT. What God gives you is between Him and you. What God gives A.N. Other is between Him and A.N. Other. Remember Jesus' challenge to Peter, when Peter asks him what the future holds for John. Jesus turns to Peter and says, "What is that to you? But you must follow me".


2. Jesus challenges us to learn the logic of divine grace
Religion works on a very simple principal: 'If I do good to God, God will see that good is done to me".

That is at the very heart of the human sense of justice: "If I do good, I will get a reward. If I do bad, I will be punished". And that basically seems to be at the heart of most of what could be called religion today.

It is the logic of religion. And it is a false logic

It simply does not work like that. Someone was telling me about the time when they were in hospital with their seriously sick baby. Their baby recovered. But the 15 year old girl in the next room died. And no one in their right mind will say that the baby deserved to live and the girl deserved to die. It does not work like that. And because it does not work like that, Hindu's for example fall back on the concept of Karma: that how you have lived in this life effects how you return in the next life.

But divine logic works differently. It starts from the premise that God loves us and would give us all things if we turn to him. But we have not. We have turned from him, and - if it is justice we want - then all that awaits us is dreadful judgement. Divine logic tells us that we deserve nothing - but that because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did - God would give us everything. The only thing that we need to do is to make ourselves available.  

And even though, from our perspective, this life is not fair - God promises that he will give to whoever waits for him the assurance of his presence, the gift of being able to call out to him and to know him, and the patience and the perseverance that enables us to endure the seeming inequalities and injustices that life throws at us with joy and love.

Christianity is not really about justice. It is about generosity, God's generosity to us: The landowner says, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous".

The labourers in our story are in fact completely dependent on someone hiring them. If they are not hired, they and their families will go hungry. That is why they are standing around even at the 11th hour: just in case. And notice how the landowner gives to each of the men one denarius - sufficient to meet their needs.

All that we have is of grace:

We are in no position to begrudge God's generosity. We are in no position to challenge the way that he works in a particular individual's life. The only reason we are within his vineyard is because he called us when he did. The only reason we are going to heaven is because he will give us what he promised.

And if God chooses to call someone early in the morning, and they labour all their life for him in his vineyard - or if he chooses to call someone on their deathbed - even if they have lived a self-destructive and other-destructive life - then who are we to complain? God offers both of us mercy.

3. This is a challenge to us when we might despair
People are called at the eleventh hour. People are called on their deathbed.

Don’t give up in your prayers for others. Don't give up in looking for the right opportunities. It is God's call, but so often he chooses to use us to make that call.

And so I finish this morning with a call: Maybe till this morning you have been looking for justice. Today you realise you don't need justice, but you do need mercy. If you've heard that, then I suspect that God is calling you - inviting you at the 10th hour - to come and work in his vineyard. So may I suggest that as you come for communion and kneel down at the rail, as you receive the bread and wine, say 'yes' to God and invite him to come into you and live in you and work in you and through you.

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