s058g^96 Somerton Park & Geocities 22/9/96 Sunday 25
"Are you envious because I am generous?" Matthew 20.15
This is a wonderful parable for it tells us all about God and all about ourselves. I last preached on this passage at the Gawler Deanery MU festival at Elizabeth Downs last month.
I said this is a wonderful parable. It tells me three wonderful things about God.
The first wonderful thing about God is that he spends his time out and about looking for people, and looking for people to make their contribution to the kingdom. This truth is reflected in the whole of the Bible story - from Genesis when God is seen walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, looking for Adam and Eve - to Jesus who spent his ministry going from town to town, empty handed and accepting the hospitality of those who offered it. So the landowner of the parable goes out early, then at nine, later at noon and three o'clock, and finally at five. Everyone who was there were hired to work. God "spends his time" looking for us, so that each of us can make our own unique contribution to his kingdom.
The second wonderful thing about God is that he overlooks the lies. One can sense a certain degree of frustration on the part of the landowner when he finds labourers at the marketplace idle at five o'clock. "Why are you standing here idle all day?" he asks. They lamely reply with the lie: "Because no one has hired us." This is a lie - had they actually been there at any of the four previous occasions the landowner had come - they would have been hired. The truth therefore is that they weren't there before, a truth the landowner well knew. But the landowner doesn't point out their sin or worry about the lie; he doesn't even challenge the statement. The task is too urgent to be worried about whether they "repent" or not. The task is for these also to make their own unique contribution to the kingdom, that is the first and only priority. How often does the Church consider its first priority is to get people to repent?
The third wonderful thing about God is that God provides for our daily needs. Some translations name the coin the denarius; our translation calls it the usual daily wage. When Philip says to Jesus 200 denarii would hardly buy sufficient to feed the 5000, he is pretty close here. A family of 5 for three meals a day is fed by 1 denarius. So one denarius = 15 meals - so 200 denarii = 3000 meals. Of course the denarius for the family might have to provide clothing and other expenses not needed in the one-off feast. So when we say that core petition in the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread" it needs to be tempered with the realisation that God does, whether we ask or not. Those coming first to the paymaster didn't expect to receive the usual daily wage, nor did they ask for it. God gives us that which we need, if we ask him or if we don't. God gives us (despite the theologies of some people) even when we pray but dare not expect our prayer to be answered.
As I said at the beginning the parable also tells us about ourselves, and this is of course rather different from God.
As the paymaster got up to those who had worked the whole day we are told that "they thought they might receive more". Perhaps two denarii, or even three. I must admit I am not a gambler, but I do have an easy pick in some of the megadraws of cross- lotto. Now I really don't have to tell you what would happen if I actually won a major prize. There is that old Australian phrase - "You wouldn't see me for dust!" Of course I would use some of the proceeds for doing something towards God's kingdom - perhaps a house for refugees...
So we don't have to wrack our brains to discover what the grumbler wanted. He actually didn't want to have to come to work in the vineyard tomorrow, or perhaps even have a couple of days off had the person been given three denarii ... But the task is too urgent, God doesn't want us to delay making our own unique contributions, for it is here that we find our sense of personal fulfilment.
For all I would love to be my own boss and do my own thing, it is only now after nearly twenty years in active parish ministry that I am now clearly saying what I meant to say when I started!
The second thing we learn about humanity is revealed too. When the last workers arrived at the paymaster, if they weren't to receive more than the first, then they grumbled that those who worked only the one hour should receive less. Let us be quite clear, the denarius could be split up into coins of smaller denominations. I think a silver denarius was worth 64 widow's mites, so the paymaster could have easily paid them by the hour. But of course the result of this is that they wouldn't be able to afford to live and feed themselves and their families! Those who had worked all day didn't care. Let them starve - let them be cast out into the street and beg! They don't live up to our expectations, why should we care? We wouldn't do that would we?
Again I refer to that article in the Adelaide Advertiser of August the 9th - that article where it reported those Christians who are lobbying the Federal government to discriminate against the homosexual community in such areas as employment and rental housing ... These people do not live up to our expectations - they are not worth employing - they can starve, they and their loved ones. They are not worth even a roof over their head - they can be out on the streets begging - that's all they deserve! This, in the name of Christ???
This is a wonderful parable, for it tells us the sort of God we have - someone who is ever out urgently looking for us and for all to enter his vineyard, no questions asked, all will be provided for. God is generous. It tells us that if we as the Church are proclaiming a God different from this, we have some looking to do ourselves. It tells us that people are our first priority, not our expectations of them.
It encourages us to make our own contribution to God's kingdom and to allow others to make their contribution also.
There are three final comments I would make. Firstly the workers grumble at the landowner. We might expect that the landowner, being God, might strike them dead or refuse to employ them the following day. How frequently do we complain that God hasn't ordered the universe in the way we think it should be - particularly when we think someone else has got more than they should have? Is not this the same reason Jesus was nailed to the cross?
The second is to reinforce the urgency of the mission to encourage all people whoever they are to make their contribution. God goes out again and again seeking people - not people to convert, not to get them to repent, not to get them to believe, but to solicit and accept the unique contribution they have to make to the kingdom. It is urgent. It is too easy to be distracted.
The final comment is one of those distractions. In the latest issue of the Adelaide Church Guardian (September page 4), it is reported that Dr Feliciano Carino, general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, in a report with the headline "Ecumenism loses its sparkle", believes churches have lost their "ecumenical enthusiasm". It causes me to ponder if the Churches have been distracted from this primary message of this parable. Let us forget about repentance, even forget about faith if that means even one is person turned away. Ecumenism, I have no doubt, leads us to look at other Christians with eyes to see that they have a legitimate contribution to make to God's kingdom, and this is very positive and good. It seems to me however that Jesus went about with eyes to see the good in a rathe wider group of people than just the religious of his society. He went to all sorts and conditions of people and he sat down and ate with them.
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