September 20, 2020 Chapel by the Sea Worship via Zoom
Lectionary Text: Matthew 20:1-16 Generosity, Grace, Green-eyed monster
A sermon by The Rev. Dr. Flatley
Our focus text today is directed at the 12 disciples and by extension through the Holy Spirit to us as well. Jesus is answering a question from the previous chapter, when the disciples ask, “What’s in it for me? What will my reward be?” In the chapter which follows they are arguing over who will be Jesus’ right hand man? Even their Jewish mothers are campaigning on their behalf? So the positioning of this parable in Matthew’s Gospel is sandwiched between these two questions. There is increasing conflict, competitiveness, grumbling and even jealousy. Oy Yvey, Jesus must be wondering if these disciples are ever going to get it right? They are already set on a course to Jerusalem and the cross, so the teaching time is running out and so is our year with the Gospel of Matthew.
We can empathize with the disciples’ transition here from familiar Jewish ways and religious laws to this new teaching of Jesus which has turned their world upside down. These days we’ve also been making a transition from in-person gathering to virtual gathering. It’s not as comfortable and familiar. We’ve had to learn new technologies. It can be stressful and I too have grumbled about it but when I look at the upside I do not have to drive two hours to Commission on Ministry or Presbytery meetings!
Jesus chose a parable to teach and warn about grumbling and not getting your fair share. It harks back to the Exodus story where the Israelites did their fair share of grumbling as they wandered in the desert for 40 years complaining about the food until God sent manna. God’s providence was sufficient and enough for everyone (The Jewish concept of dayenu).
This parable turns the whole labor market as they knew it in the first century, upside down. Employers today would not be in business very long if they took this parable literally. Jesus points out that this parable is about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like or can be compared to a landowner looking for workers at all times during the day. The Jewish day began at sunrise or 6 a.m and one counted from there until 6 pm the end of the day. So 9 a.m. was the third hour, midday the sixth hour, and the eleventh hour was 5 pm, the hour before close of business. The landowner puts people to work at all different times of the day, then pays them all the same wage. How unjust of him! Those who worked all day assumed they would be paid more. Our kids like to joke with us and remind us what happens when we assume… there is also a saying “assumptions are planned resentments” When we set ourselves up for something and it doesn’t turn out the way we think it should, we grumble, complain, and worse, we hold on to those grudges that end up harming our own health.
For the health of the church, the ekklesia as Matthew calls us, we are all invited by God into the vineyard, the harvest is plentiful, the workers are few. In the Old Testament the vineyard was often a symbol for Israel. In the New Testament Jesus is the vine. In this new teaching Jesus’ invitation is for all people equally. It has been said that “in God’s economy there is no such thing as a most favored nation clause” We are all accepted and loved whether you come to the work party early or late, As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, Jew or Gentile, male or female we are all ONE in Christ (Gal. 3:28). A beloved community as we like to refer to ourselves.
There is so much good news in this parable, so many hidden meanings, generosity is only one of the themes. There is peace and comfort in this parable knowing that we serve a generous God who loves all God’s children equally. God’s grace is not something we can earn by working harder or longer. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is a gift. Not a works righteous conditional kind of grace. No payment of indulgences required only generous giving and unconditional love.
For the anxious disciples this was a warning for them to stop the one-upmanship and bickering about who was the better disciple. Matthew warns them not to be envious of God’s generosity, the Greek literal translation reads, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” What is it to you then that I am generous?
We need to examine the log in our own eye identify and name what in us causes the green-eyed monster to rear its ugly head. Does it come from selfish motives, greed, past hurts that we have not processed and forgiven, a hardness of heart that lacks compassion or fear and loss of control and superiority? In God’s economy, the greatest gift, God’s only son, Jesus Christ, love incarnate, invites us to join in the work of bringing God’s kin-dom to come. No one is unemployed in God’s economy when we join in and get to work. We all have gifts to share and stories to tell of how God is working in our lives whether it’s a prayer, a note of encouragement or thanks, a phone call, picking up groceries, or delivering safety kits, and even walking your neighborhood. We have the joy of serving a gracious, generous God. As lifelong disciples our ambition is to serve following Jesus’ example of humble service expecting nothing in return knowing only the love of God and being One in the Spirit. At the last we may be surprised that the last will be first and the first will be last. Amen.