s058g99 Somerton Park 19/9/99 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. 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 was hired to work. God "spends time" looking for us, so that each of us can make our own unique contribution to the 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 getting them to acknowledge their sin or to be concerned 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 acknowledge their sinfulness and 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. Perhaps 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.
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 humanity, 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 "mega-draws" 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 paymaster 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, not in the times we so urgently look forward to - our holiday.
For all I would love to be my own boss and do my own thing, it is only now after over 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 surely 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 understand 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 those who worked less and got paid less wouldn't be able to afford to live and feed themselves and their families! How could they make their contribution to the kingdom when their families were starving? But those who had worked all day didn't care about them! Let them starve - let them be cast out into the street and beg! They don't live up to our expectations, why should they care? Where is God's justice? We wouldn't do that would we?
In the Adelaide Advertiser of August the 9th 1996 an article reported that some Christians were 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 at ourselves to do. 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? But God doesn't point out their sinfulness or lack of charity to them - let alone strike them dead.
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.
Thirdly and finally about Jesus. Jesus' ministry was all about going out into the market-place looking to hire workers. He didn't spend his time in the temple praying or in the synagogue preaching. The market - place and the vineyard are the market place and vineyard of real life, not the sanitised ideal we think is appropriate for religion. The work that we do, as parents, feeding babies and cleaning nappies - this is our ministry in the vineyard. My own father, a watchmaker and jeweller, saw his ministry as providing gifts that might bring joy as they were given and received by others.
Every time I hear the Church talking about "encouraging lay ministry" it always seems to me to mean lay people becoming apprentice clergy. While I have no difficulty in lay people undertaking a range of public ministrations authorised by the Bishop - I continue to be saddened by the continuing failure of the Church to recognise the vast variety of ministries already being undertaken by each and every disciple "in that state of life" it has pleased God to call them.
At the end of the day, perhaps I could encourage us all to look at our daily activities as our ministry for God. They will include things we do for ourselves and our own well being, things we do for our families and loved ones. It might be as simple as being cheerful to the person on the checkout - affirming that their contribution is valued and appreciated. It may also be caring for ourselves as we take some "time off" The real world we live in, doing the ordinary things which we have to do everyday - this is the Lord's vineyard - not just here in this worshipping community - because the Lord is generous.
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