The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 20th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, "You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, "Why are you standing here idle all day?' 7They said to him, "Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, "You also go into the vineyard.' 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, "Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' 9 When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, "These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13 But he replied to one of them, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Are you envious because God is generous? The first lesson from Jonah and our gospel today give us a glimpse into what kind of a God we have. And at first glimpse, we might have to admit we don’t always like what we see. Because God just isn’t fair.
Picture this: my two children sitting at the kitchen table. There is a big brownie sitting in front of them. They need to share it. Of course they each want the bigger piece. I want both of them to be happy. So I cut it in what looks to me to be identically sized pieces. One of them quickly grabs what both perceive to be the much larger piece and the fight begins. That's how I learned to let one of them cut the brownie and the other one choose first. That way they are both sure to be as fair as possible.
Because if there's one thing we're all born with, it's a sense of fairness. It is a powerful and good thing, because that sense of fairness, when we have matured, is the foundation for justice and equality.
For example: "we knew it wasn't fair that some could vote and others couldn't. Its not fair that some could ride in the front of the bus while others had to sit in the back. Its not fair that some are paid more for the same work. Its not fair that some go to bed hungry while others have so much their landfills overflow." Yes, our sense of fairness can lead to a strong and life-giving sense of justice.
All children have this sense of fairness. They know whose turn it is and they know who got more pieces of candy and who gets to stay up the latest and who gets to stay out and play the longest.
Brothers and sisters especially want to be sure that they are treated equally by their parents. I have a younger sister and I can remember my mother's strong sense of fairness. She always tried to make sure we got the same amount of everything. She even made sure she spent the same exact amount on our Christmas presents down to the last penny. We always knew who had a more expensive gift because we would shake the packages, and one of them would have a few coins rattling in it to make up the difference.
We all remember being very concerned that things were fair when we were growing up. I am sure you have memories of a brother or sister or a friend who had nicer things, or got to stay up later, or was just plain more popular than you were. They probably think you were the privileged one, but I bet you don't remember it that way. I bet you find it easier to think of the times that you have lost out instead of the times you were lucky.
It's just human nature. We remember the times when we think we were slighted. We don't notice the times when we were the ones who got a break. It's human nature that goes all the way back to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were concerned about the fruit they couldn't have, rather than being grateful for everything else in the garden.
This story helps explain how we understand our lives. Because we are fallen and sinful, we don't focus on the abundance we have from God. We concentrate on what we feel we still lack. Because of this gnawing sense of lack, we define ourselves over and against other people, comparing and begrudging their good fortune because it wasn't our good fortune.
Jonah is doing that very thing in today's Old Testament lesson. He has been a very reluctant prophet. He didn't want to go to Nineveh in the first place. When he finally gets there he preaches his little one line sermon in the hope that no one will pay attention.
When they do listen and repent he is furious, because he knows now they will receive the grace and mercy of God. Just like a jealous little kid, he whines to God. He is so mad at God, that he goes off and pouts about it. He hates the Ninevites so much that he would rather die, than live to see them be blessed by God.
Jonah's exaggerated anger makes a good story, but we can relate to the resentment. It is especially hard when good things come to people we don't like, to people who aren't deserving.
The story of the laborers in the vineyard is also story about this kind of human resentment. Think for a moment about the grumbling day laborers who worked in the hot sun all day picking grapes. Rather than feeling fortunate to have found work for the day, they feel unfortunate at not having received a bonus.
Rather than rejoicing that these other workers -- who waited all day for the prospect of work -- can return home blessed to be able to feed their families, they can only begrudge them their good fortune. And rather than be grateful to the landowner who has given them an honest day's wage for an honest day's work, they can only grumble with resentment.
This parable speaks as truly to our own day and time as it did to Jesus' original audience. Because this parable lays before each of us a very clear choice.
When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes?
Do we pay attention to the areas in our lives where there is plenty? Or do we focus on the things we think we still lack? Do we live by gratitude or envy? Do we rejoice when others receive good things? Or do we see them only as competitors?
This choice is both unavoidable and simple. You just can't be grateful and envious at the same time.
Today we have a choice. Jesus Christ has overcome our sin. We can choose to live in gratitude instead of resentment. The Lord of the Vineyard is celebrating the harvest with us. He gives the final reward to all equally.
Many of us are privileged to labor along side him every day, all day long, for years. Sometimes the sun gets hot, but we have the security of knowing the Lord is always with us even when the work is hard.
Some of us wait longer before starting our work in the vineyard. We know what it is like to live in insecurity, so we remember the joy of the invitation to join the workers. All of us receive our daily bread, the usual daily wage. The usual daily wage in Jesus' parable was a denarius. A denarius was just enough money to buy food for a family for one day. The landowner pays every one enough for their daily bread. No matter how long the laborers work, they all receive their daily bread.
God isn't fair. Jonah told us. Jesus told us. God isn't fair. Instead, God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God gives all of us our daily bread. God isn't fair. So, we can live in gratitude instead of resentment. Amen.