An act of worship at home
Reading Matthew 20 vv 1-16
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 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?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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.” 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? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
If, for a moment, we try to imagine ourselves as a character in this parable most of us probably put ourselves in the place of one of the labourers. In which case, depending on which labourer, we may either feel its deeply unfair or wonderfully generous. But, for a moment, let’s put ourselves in the place of the landowner. Knowing the needs of all those needing work you’ve decided to be generous and to pay everyone the same living wage, no matter how long they’ve worked. But then, at the end of the day, the best approach would seem to be to pay those who have worked the longest first. That way they get home first and aren’t upset by seeing others being paid the same for doing less. That way too each successive group will feel happier for what they receive instead of each successive group getting more and more upset. That way all will go home happy. But as so often Jesus flips things on their head and reverses the order.
The central message of this parable is about God’s grace and generosity that isn’t earned but given equally to all. But the order in which labourers are paid is important. It’s not enough to say that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace and love and compassion and generosity, although of course that’s true. All that could have been said quietly and gently in a story ending with everyone happy and contented. But Jesus didn’t leave it there, he made a point to show us a kingdom that refuses to be quiet about what it does and how it does it. If the labourers had been paid in the order I’d have paid them then those who worked longest could have gone away feeling they had earned their reward. To put it into the language of faith, long time Christians could feel they have earned God’s grace. But if we do anything in the belief that we earn God’s grace then we miss the point, we really do.
The Kingdom of God is like this …it’s not fair, its way way beyond fair, it is pure, generous, glorious grace. It is a gift of God that we should shout about, a relationship and a way of life which challenging the accepted norms of fairness and presents the world with pure love, with perfect overflowing compassion.
Eternal, ever-living, ever-present God, in the struggles and joys of this day, we pray:
for those who are overburdened, weighed down, demoralised,
fearful or desolate because of what life has thrown at them… Lord be with them.
For those engulfed in pain and anguish, facing illness and death… Lord be with them.
For those troubled in mind and spirit, who find no peace or calm… Lord be with them.
For those alone and lonely, without friend or comfort… Lord be with them.
For those frightened and bewildered, who see no direction or purpose in their lives… Lord be with them.
Eternal, ever-living God, bless them all in this and every hour,
in this and every step of life’s journey. Amen.
Jesus, Lord, we look to Thee,
Let us in Thy name agree:
Show Thyself the Prince of Peace;
Bid all strife for ever cease.
Make us of one heart and mind,
Courteous, full of pity, kind,
Lowly, meek, in thought and word,
Altogether like the Lord.
Let us for each other care,
Each the other’s burden bear;
To Thy church the pattern give,
Show how true believers live.
Free from anger and from pride,
Let us thus in God abide;
All the depths of love express,
All the heights of holiness.
Closer knit to Thee, our Head,
Nourish us, O Christ, and feed!
Let us daily grace receive,
More and more in Jesus live.
Fill us with the Father’s love,
Never from our souls remove;
Dwell in us, and we shall be
Thine through all eternity.
Let us live our lives in love to serve the Lord. And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon us and remain with us this day and forever more. Amen.