“But he said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me when I promised to pay you a day’s pay? Take your pay and go. I want to give the last ones hired the same as I have given you. Do I not have the right to do what I want to do with my own money? Does your eye make you want more because I am good?’ So those who are last will be first and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20: 13-16 NLB)
Does today’s parable seem unfair? We live in a world where everything needs to be fair. Are we jealous because someone else gets more? Do we always have to keep up with our neighbors or do we feel happy for them when good things happen?
The landowner pays a full day’s wages regardless of how long they have worked. He also responds to those who are unemployed and find little work. They still need a day’s wage to survive. Each was paid as agreed. We also see that God is just and compassionate.
The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims is centered on gratitude and thankfulness for what we have received and the humility to share those blessings with others. In this spirit of being thankful, we discover the happiness that is of God. Today’s gospel calls us to a change in how we see and live our lives. Jesus calls us to look beyond ourselves and rejoice in all that we have been given. We have family, friends, health, opportunities, and freedom.
What is this parable about and how does it speak to us today? The employer in this story is a caring person. This story was written at a time when there was a threat of unemployment. Who are these workers who come late? Those who repent on their deathbed? Those who battle addiction all their lives? Those who wasted their youth and were only able to give Jesus their withered last years? Tax collectors? Prostitutes?
Jesus gave us this story to make a point, to leave a lesson. The employer is a caring and compassionate person. The early birds were furious because they worked all day and got the same amount. It was a just wage but they expected more.
What does the parable have to do with the kingdom of heaven? This is how God acts towards his people. Our God is kind and merciful. No one earns the kingdom of Heaven. It is a gift of grace.
Some of us are blessed with doing the will of God from an age of understanding. We all make detours in our faith but we try to be what God wants us to be throughout life. Is it fair then that someone on his or her deathbed is converted, or the killer in prison finds God? Will their reward be the same as those who followed God all their lives? Where is the fairness in that?
One must remember that our ways are not God's ways. God speaks in a thousand different ways: “To Moses, the thunder on Sinai, to Elijah, the still small voice on Horeb, the word of the Lord from the pulpit, the flesh of the Lord that you receive, the faith of a friend, the despair of a dear friend but our intellect can get in the way.
A dear friend of mine named Ernie was a father figure when I was growing up. I had not seen him in many years but he ended up in a nursing home in Lynden with Alzheimer’s. He recognized me until he got worse and then he recognized the veil I wore. I gave Ernie a picture of Jesus. One day he said to me, “You know what I do with the picture of Jesus?” He went on to say that at night when he could not sleep he used his flashlight and just looked at Jesus. What a profound way to pray. The silence and love of two…the loved and the beloved. This was an encounter of love.
We may have the degree, the salary, the house, and the friends but look at all that God has given us. Turning to God is a gift. I believe that this parable talks to us about conversion, and the need to change. We have a covenant with God that ties us to every person as brothers and sisters. God gave us life. Eyes to see, hands to touch, a mind, a heart to beat…the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hate. Turning to God is a gift.
God constantly offers forgiveness. When the criminal on his own cross of death begs to be remembered at the coming of the kingdom, Jesus did not respond: Life is tough, but you are too late. It is almost 3:00 PM. You should have come around earlier. No, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
God asks us to open our minds and hearts to something so much bigger and better. He tells us to trust and pray. Conversion is a daily work in our lives. We need to grow and change.
The landowner invited all the laborers into the workplace, and everyone got exactly what they needed. When we say the Our Father we say, “Give us this day, our daily bread." We need to let go of the world and trust in God to do just that. We will never totally understand the love God has for us, but we need to learn to surrender to the life God has called us to live.
Text - "God's Ways are not Our Ways," a sermon by Rev. Liz Miller
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