Matthew 20:1-16 • September 18, 2011
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
How many parents are here today? How many parents with more than one child? How many who have been around children at some point in time regardless of whether or not you are a parent? Cool.
Have you ever encountered a situation with children that is similar to the story in Matthew’s gospel today? If you give one child 2 cookies and the child right next to them 1 cookie – one of these children will probably let you know very quickly that it’s not fair. My wife Wendy has always been extremely careful about this with our twin daughters. If she gives one of them 6 crackers as part of their snack for school, she gives the other one 6 crackers as well. Birthday and Christmas gifts are always the exact same monetary value. But no matter how hard we try as parents, inevitably we hear “it’s not fair” from one of our children.
But you and I know that this voice isn’t just part of a child’s world. Many adults I know are constantly comparing what they have with what someone else has. A friend has something that you really want and so you shout that it’s not fair??!! I’m struggling a little with that right now every time I see someone with an iPad 2.
Luther Seminary Professor David Lose says that “We tend to assess fairness, as the examples from childhood demonstrate, in terms of what seems fair not only to us but also for us. We tend to measure fairness, that is, in terms of our own wants, needs, hopes, expectations, often with little – or at least secondary – regard for the wants and needs of others. And unfortunately this doesn’t end with childhood.”
Some of you may remember a time when Jay Leno was not the host of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson was. One night on the show Carson told a joke about a toilet paper shortage that was taking place in Los Angeles. There in fact was no toilet paper shortage in Los Angeles. But the very next day there was a toilet paper shortage because everyone who watched The
Tonight Show when Carson cracked that joke ran out afterward and bought all the toilet paper they could find just in case there was in fact a shortage. People panicked and grabbed way more than what they really needed, rather than
being OK with what they already had.
Think with me about the vineyard in Matthew’s gospel for a bit. Let’s say that the vineyard is Good Shepherd. Here are a few thoughts. Are the families who will be joining our congregation for the first time in the next month less deserving of God’s love and grace than are the members in this congregation who have been here for 50 years? I mean, is it not true that longtime members in a congregation have been out working longer in the scorching heat of the ministry field? Why would these newcomers who have done no work in our congregation’s ministry field be entitled to the same amount of God’s love and grace as those of us who have already been working for a long time?
God as our landowner gives us the gift of overwhelming grace and generosity and love that is for all. It is a gift freely given by God, regardless of whether you have been living your life in Christ for one day or for 80 years. Regardless of whether you are just entering into a congregational relationship or you have been part of a community of faith your entire life.
In Jesus’ parable today, I think it’s important to pay close attention to the last workers who are hired. Why did they not get hired before – were they late to arrive in the morning? Were they addicts or drunks or homeless or criminals or divorced people that nobody wanted to hire because they were different from everyone else? The landowner asks them why they haven’t been working all day. Their response is simply, “Because nobody has given us a job.” Nobody, in essence, wanted them. But the
landowner hires them and pays them.
What the landowner offers to the workers in Matthew’s gospel today may not seem fair, but in fact it is. All of the workers are paid what was promised to them. The parable gives attention to the giver of grace rather than the recipients. God rewards according to grace, not accomplishments.
When we look at our own lives and our own walk in faith, do we think about how blessed we are or about how we always seem to want more? Do we spend all of our energy focusing on the bad things that happen to us, or on all the good things that are constantly happening right in front of us? Do we live in the light of thanksgiving for the free gift of relationship with God through our savior Jesus or are we constantly falling into the darkness of jealousy and envy? Do we look to our neighbors with love and compassion or only as a source of conflict and competition?
Knowing that we have options before us doesn’t always make it easy for us to choose without constantly thinking and saying, “It’s not fair.” And you know what – that’s good news! It’s not fair.
It’s not fair that God’s grace is freely given to you and me each and every day in spite of our incessant need for something else. It’s not fair that God continues to mold us and shape us as his children in spite of our constant attempts to distance ourselves from being in relationship with God. It’s not fair, that God loved you and me so much that he was willing to let his son be sacrificed on a bloody cross. It’s not fair that death could not hold on to the sacrificed son. It’s not fair that God gave us a savior named Jesus that not one of us deserves. It’s not fair that you and I will never get everything right every time. It’s not fair that you and I will never show up on time or know the right answers. It’s not fair that in spite of all my efforts to stop thinking about, I will still want an iPad2 that everyone else seems to have already! It’s not fair.
I pray that you join me this week in giving thanks. Giving thanks that our landowner God is gracious and loving beyond our wildest expectations and that it’s never going to be fair and that’s the good news of life in Christ. Amen.