Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Matthew 20
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Once upon a time a kingdom emerged, its founding marked at the end of an age of raids and conquest. Some time later, another kingdom was added, a kingdom known for its long place names, and where everyone seemed to have the surname Williams or Jones.

Still later another kingdom was joined, this one across a small sea, a land of green hills and missing snakes. Finally, late in the history of this kingdom, a final kingdom was added, a land of mountains and mists, and a people who magically discovered that if you dry the barley over a peat fire, the taste of the peat adds flavour to whatever you choose to distill.

Later still, in what some call the present age, each of the kingdoms began to rediscover their uniqueness, and each kingdom received what rightfully belonged to them: an assembly, some autonomy, and a football team, just for good measure. But the first kingdom began to grumble, saying ‘the kingdom who came last got the same as the rest, plus a referendum, and the men don’t need to wear pants—this is unfair.” The end of this story is unwritten.

In another story, this one set across the ocean, a vast land was populated by first peoples, who welcomed wave after wave of newcomers. The first wave came by boat, and named everything for home, but added the word ‘new’—New France, New Amsterdam, New England. The next wave came by horse and cart, across a new border, loyal to the king from our first story, and willing to start again. Later still another wave came, this time by ocean liner, from places like Italy, and Holland, and islands in the Caribbean.

The last wave arrived by plane, from countries all over the world, from Africa, and Asia, also looking for a new life. But all the other newcomers began to grumble, saying ‘they have just arrived, and they expect rights and jobs and a share of our prosperity?” And then the wise first peoples finally spoke up and said “you are all immigrants to this land, whether you arrived in 1608, 1784, 1950 or last week. Now stop fighting and care for the land we shared with you.”

In our final story, there is a another kingdom, this one heavenly, with workers, and a marketplace, and a vast vineyard. The master of this vineyard must hire workers each day, and so travels to the marketplace, promising an honest days work and the daily wage, a small silver coin.

Soon the master needed more workers, and around nine he hired the next group, making the promise to ‘pay what is right.’ At noon he hired more, and three, and even at five he had room for another handful or workers. When the end of the day came, the master said to the foreman ‘pay the workers what we owe, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

When those hired at five came forward, they were delighted to receive the daily wage, a small silver coin. The imaginations of the other workers began to light up, but each group down to the first hired received the same small silver coin. The first hired grumbled the loudest: ‘We worked the hot sun the entire day, and did the bulk of the work, yet these ones received the same wage. You have made us equal!’

‘But friends,’ the master said, ‘did I not pay you what I promised, with my money? Why is my generosity so troubling to you?

Maybe just one more story. Long long ago, God liberated a people and led through the wilderness to the promised land. And while it sounds simple enough, the journey actually took forty years. It was a journey marked by various degrees of hardship, with hunger and thirst at the top of this list.

Soon, these wanderers had had enough. After years of wandering they become experts at complaining, knowing exactly what to say to make Moses and the other leaders see red. ‘You know, Moses,’ they said, ‘we would have happily died back there in Egypt. At least there we would have a final meal from the famous fleshpots of Egypt, and the sumptuous bread, and the ice-cold Egyptian ale. Instead, you have led us into the desert to starve us all.’

Well, God heard the complaining, and God told Moses ‘I will give them food to eat each day, but since I hate their complaining so much, I’m going to give them a test—to see how well they can follow directions. Each day for five days I will rain bread from heaven, and on the sixth day I will give a double measure, so day seven remains a day of rest.’ Then God give the details of the test, which Moses then shared.

‘Each day,’ Moses said, ‘you are to collect what you need, an equal measure of manna—one omer—for everyone in your tent. So the people followed Moses’ direction. But while some of were strong and fit, and able to collect their portion quickly, some struggled and could not collect their share. But at the end of the day, in what is now called the ‘first miracle of the omer’ all the containers of manna were made equal. But this was not the test.

The test was for hoarders, the people who didn’t trust in God to provide for the next day. They ate only some of the manna in their containers, and tried to save the rest for tomorrow. But when they awoke—and this is called the second miracle of the omer—the manna that remained was filled with maggots and smelled of rot. Isn’t the Bible fun?

And just in case you are wondering how much manna there is in a single omer, the Bible becomes both fun and informative. There at Exodus 16.36, it says “and one omer is equal to one-tenth of an ephah.” Good to know.

So what’s the glue here? If we had to describe the theme through each of these stories, it would be “unhappy people received an equal share.” Or, “having received an equal share, some remain convinced they are more equal than others.”

You might say we have a love-hate relationship with equality. We tend to say we love it, and strive for it, and seek to safeguard it, but at the end of the day we generally feel more equal than others. You go to church every week for a hundred years, you tithe with your money—giving an appropriate about to the general fund, M&S and COPs. You spend decades loving and serving others just as the creed says, then some tiny upstart in a slippery dress gets one squirt of water at the font and you’re completely equal in God’s eyes. How is that fair?

Some get something called “devo-max” and £203 more per person per year in healthcare services, and some get charter rights protection within minutes of landing at Pearson and some get ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ and everyone gets a daily dose of manna and the kid who threw away his inheritance on dissolute living gets the fatted calf treatment while the older brother thinks he got nothing. And everyone says ‘how is that fair?’

To this—and every complaint about equality and worth and a fair share—Jesus says “give us this day our daily bread.” Not too much and not too little, more than the foolish amount we call the minimum wage and way less than what a bank president gets. Give us this day our daily bread, Lord, and help us to be equal, both in terms of what we get and in terms of what we think we deserve, Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home