“Are you envious because I am generous?”
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus tells us a story about the “kingdom of heaven,” which is not a place called heaven where you go after you die. The kingdom of heaven is the personal presence and power of God to save us, right here and now.
We believe that through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ God has established His heavenly King on this earth, and He is reigning and ruling from His throne as we speak throne. To be a Christian is to know that God has rescued you from the reign and rule of Satan, sin and death, and transferred you into the kingdom of His Son whom He loves. As a consequence, life can never be the same…
So what is life like in the kingdom of heaven? What does that mean for our lives?
One of the ways we discover the truth about things we do not know is through comparison with something that we do know.
That’s what we call an analogy.
In his parables Jesus drew analogies of the kingdom from everyday life.
So, we may not what the kingdom of heaven is like, but we do know what it is like to get up in the morning and go to work.
No work? No money. No money? No food. No food? Nothing to eat. Nothing to eat? You die. Better get a job.
You remember in the Book of Genesis how God placed Adam in the garden and gave him a job: Take care of the garden. The people of Israel understood themselves to be workers in God’s vineyard. People need something to do. Which explains why some folk have a very difficult time with retirement. Now what do I do?
And then there is this business of losing a job and becoming unemployed. lf this has happened to you, you will know there is a very personal cost to this experience in terms of your sense of self worth. Losing a job is something that middle aged executives often never recover from…
As great it is to have a job, the work place can be difficult. There is competition, rivalry. The worker isn’t Labor isn’t evenly distributed. We have hard workers who give 100% to the cause, 100% of the time. But then you have those who. either through laziness or incompetence give maybe 50% effort, 50% of the time, if you’re lucky.
But those who are giving of their all, don’t seem to get the recognition, credit or the reward they deserve. In fact it’s the slackers and the bozos who get the promotion.
Women still don’t have the opportunity and wages that men do.
In short, there is often massive injustice in the workplace.
In today’s parable Jesus is plugging into something we are all familiar with. But as with all parables Jesus told, there is a surprising twist in the story, which opens up a window on life in the kingdom of heaven.
A landowner went out early in the morning to hire laborers in his vineyard. lt’s harvest time, and he has have got to get the crop off.
What’s he paying?
He is fair employer, who isn‘t offering minimum wage, but rather a living wage, Which is what a person needs in order to make ends meet- food on the table, roofover the head and so on. In Canada today that’s anywhere between $16 and $20 an hour.
Well our vineyard owner heads off with his truckload of laborers who are more than happy to have been hired. They have full day of work ahead of them. and the prospect of a full day’s pay.
But as we hear in the story, the owner of the vineyard seems to have this thing about doing all that he can to give work to the unemployed. Throughout the course of the day, he makes no less than 4 more trips back to the marketplace with his truck to pick up more workers.
Even with just one hour left in the working day he goes back, and finding these guys says to them, “What are you doing here standing around all day?” When they tell him, that no one has hired them, he answers , “I’ll give you job, right here and right now! Hop in, let’s go!”
You have to love this guy.
His attitude seems to be “the more people on the payroll the better,” which is rather surprising, because in business isn’t the whole idea to reduce labor costs, and so increase profits? This guy is more concerned with feeding hungry mouths than with filling his own plate.
This is our first clue that this more than just any old story about a vineyard owner who doesn’t seem to know how to run a business.
This, as Jesus said, is what the reign and rule of heaven, in your life is like. It expresses itself in the fact that God has given you a job to do.
He has given you good work to do.
The work you do may in fact hard, boring, repetitive, stressful, thankless. But the money’s good! The truth is, you hate what you do, and if it wasn’t for the money, you would have quit long ago. it’s why some people count the days until retirement.
What’s missing here? What’s missing is faith. Faith and faith alone which enables you to see that your job is more than just the money, but a good gift of God’s grace to us that we receive with thanksgiving.
This by the way is the significance of the procession that we conduct with the bread and wine on Sunday morning. Somebody on our parish here had to work here to bake that bread. Somebody, not in our parish, had to work to make that wine. The procession of our bread and wine symbolizes for us the labor of our lives this past week, with all of it’s joys and sorrows. We place that bread and wine on the altar as a sign ofthe offering ofourselves to God in thanksgiving for all that He has given for us and all that he has done for us, and this marks the entry of our lives into the kingdom ofheaven.
Along with the gifts of bread and wine we offer gifts ofmoney to God. What’s that all about?
On the one hand it’s paying the bills here at the church, but ultimately it’s about our participation in the saving work oflesus Christ in the world. it is God and His Gospel that we are serving in our places ofwork.
This is what working in the vineyard is all about. This is what we are about here at St. Mary’s.
Bored with your life? Nothing to do? There is much good work to be done. Hop in the truck and lets go!
In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, ” My desire is to depart and be with Christ. “ Paul is not ready to retire. He is ready to die. But, writes Paul, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. ” What an astounding claim given that at the time Paul was in Rome and sitting in prison cell in chains.
Paul are you kidding me? How can you possibly do fruitful labor in that place and in those circumstances? Answer: He is praying for the Church and dictating letters.
Do you feel imprisoned by the circumstances leaving you with nothing worthwhile to do.?
I would very much encourage you to spend some time with the team from St. Mary’s that goes to Wascana Hospital once a month, to porter residents to the chapel and lead them in worship and prayer. It’s a window into and a manifestation of the kingdom of heaven. Those residents cannot walk, talk, feed or clean up after themselves. Talk about helpless, useless, and hopeless. We had a wonderful thank you letter this week from a woman whose husband was part of that congregation who died recently. How grateful she was for the good work of our church, which enabled her husband to participate in the good work ofworshipping God. I will read the letter to you at the end ofthe service…
This God whom we worship is the God who in the person of the vineyard owner in our parable is revealed to be the God who so generous with his gifts that He calls one and all to come and work in his vineyard regardless ofthe contribution they are able to make. He welcomes and accepts their labor, even when it’s the 11th hour.
Now we come to the controversial moment in the story, the twist, when the vineyard owner has his manager hand out the pay- cheques, starting with those who had been hired last, and had worked but just one hour. Imagine their surprise when they opened up their pay envelopes and found a full day’s pay in cold hard cash!
What did they end up getting paid per hour? You do the math.
In a 12 hour shift at $20.00 an hour, that comes $240.00 for one hour’s work. Not bad!
But it wasn’t just those who worked 1 hour who got paid $240.00. Everybody got paid the same, didn’t matter whether they worked only one, 3 6, 9 or all 12.
Anybody have a problem with that?
Of course we do. One group gets paid $240 for working one hour, while another group gets paid $20 an hour for working 12 hours, doing the same work?
There is something wrong here. You know, it is unjust.
But wherein lies the injustice?
In response to the grumbling and complaining of the workers who had been there from the beginning the vineyard owner said, ” Am I not allowed to do with what I choose with what belongs to me?”
It is an important theological question. The answer to which will have a direct bearing on our own personal sense of contentment.
Our complaining workers had made a theological error.
God you see does not operate according to our standards ofjustice, whereby people get what’s coming to them.
That is not say that is God unjust, but that God’s justice is different from ours. It is a saving justice. It works not by rewarding the rewardable, punishing the bad, compensating the victim, but by raising the dead.
Whereas we are all book-keepers or score keepers at heart, keeping a careful eye on who does what and who gets what, so that everybody gets what is coming to them, God is not book keeper, or a score—keeper.
The God whom we worship is a Lover, a Provider, a Generous Gift Giver and a Forgiver. He is a gracious God. Everything that we have, everything that we are is God’s good gift to us to be received by faith with thanksgiving.
We don’t earn or deserve anything.
Having raised a key theological question, jesus then raises an important spiritual question, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Well, that just comes to us a dart in the heart doesn’t it?
God is generous and we are envious. His grace exposes the secret sin of the heart- envy. which like all sin kills love and wrecks relationships.
The vineyard owner told the complainers to take what was theirs and go. This is the judgment that falls upon our rejection of God’s grace. We no longer enjoy what was given as gift, but more importantly, we not a position to enjoy the Giver.
You don’t want to live like this do you? Neither do l.
it’s why this morning I am asking God for the grace to confess the sin of my heart and to repent of my envy of God’s generosity to those I regard as not deserving, and I want to invite you to join me.
(The General Thanksgiving p. 14.)