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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

It's Just Not Fair

It’s Just Not Fair
Matthew 20:1-16
 
For the Parable I am about to read it may be helpful to have a little background. Many who heard Jesus’ words would know that day laborers during the time of harvest would gather at the marketplace waiting to be hired by the landowners who needed enough laborers to get their harvest in fairly quickly. The market place was a sort of employment agency in which people who really desired to work waited. They most likely were not idlers, but those who truly needed work to support their families and were at the mercy of chance employment. If it looked like the harvesting was going too slow, the landowner would return to hire other laborers to complete the harvest. So potential laborers would wait, hoping that they would be needed during the day. Those laborers who were the first to begin that day expected a full day’s wage. The pay for a full day’s wage was normal for that type of work, but was just enough to provide sustenance for that day. To be unemployed for just one day could be disastrous to a family. The expectation was that one was paid according to what they worked. The first workers had a verbal contract and expected to work for the wage set. But those hired at a later hour had to rely on the generosity of their employer.   (read Matthew 20:1-16)
 
My grandmother had some wonderful things in her house. She had a curio cabinet filled with all kinds of treasures. But the most interesting thing she had in the curio was a little plastic chicken that laid an egg. My grandmother showed us how it worked one day but would not let us play with it. Oh how I longed to take that little chicken out and play with it. One day my grandmother sat four of us down in front of the curio, took out the little chicken and showed us how it worked. All you had to do was press the chicken down on the floor and a little marble popped out. Each one of us then got to try that, taking our turns until my little brother’s turn. He squealed with delight each time the marble popped out. The adults enjoyed his reaction so much that they let him do it over and over again. He was allowed to play with that little toy longer than any of us and I started to resent him, no it was a little stronger than that, I hated him. I was the one who had really wanted to play with it, why did he get a longer turn? Instead of being happy for him, I was resentful. It’s a good thing I didn’t follow through on my inward intentions because he would not be around today if I had.
 
Fortunately we outgrow our childhood resentments most of the time. But our sense of justice is often offended as we witness and experience the unfair inequities of life. We live in a world where much is based on reward or punishment for good and bad behavior. We expect that if we live life decently, if we offer ourselves and our service to others, then we will reap the rewards. My reward for sitting and waiting patiently for my turn to play with the chicken was that I could play with it just as long as my sisters had and that I would be able to fulfill my fondest desire. 
 
Matthew follows the promise of the reward, eternal life, with a parable that moves us beyond our idea of fairness. The first laborers probably felt good about getting a full day’s wage for their work. Their sense of fairness was that those who came later would receive partial payment according to how long they worked. What a jolt it must have been when those first workers discovered that those who came last got just as much as they did. It just wasn’t fair.
 
This parable moves us to a new level in our understanding of God and God’s providence. It would seem to those early Christians that those who had already been a part of God’s people, those Jewish Christians in particular, would have a greater reward than those new Christians who had not been a part of God’s people prior to becoming Christians. But one of the keys to the parable lies in the generosity of the landowner who we can equate to God. The measure of god’s providence lies in the ways God responds to all people, even to the people we don’t expect deserve the wonder of his grace. This God of ours has a generosity that goes beyond all our calculations of who deserves what. In Jesus’ vision of God, God’s compassion moves beyond God’s justice. God sees the worth of each individual, knows the needs of each person and responds with compassionate generosity.
 
Jesus modeled that generosity in his willingness to cut across social lines, to mingle with and offer his love to those whom society deemed most unworthy of God’s love and attention. We may feel that we are the most worthy of God’s love and mercy because we work within the framework of a faithful community, because we pray and worship and do good deeds in the name of Christ. 
 
But we may hear about people who don’t pay attention to God, then when something goes wrong with them, they pray a prayer of desperation and God answers their prayer and then we see people who have been faithful for a long time and their prayers seem to go unanswered. We question the injustice of that. Instead of rejoicing in what God has done for someone else, resentment can pop up. It is when we begin to understand that God’s generosity and love falls on the good and the bad, then we truly begin to understand the gift of Jesus. Those who have been long time faithful followers and doers of the word can celebrate when the same gift of reward in God’s kingdom is offered to those whose lives have been turned around by divine intervention. 
 
I resented my grandmother’s generous offer of more time to play with the chicken that my brother got. I would have been much happier if I had watched my brother with the same delight my grandmother watched him. God watches a person accept the gift of mercy and love he offers with delight. Isn’t that what we ought to be doing? Instead of resenting newcomers who have fresh ideas about doing church, shouldn’t we be delighted that they are among us? Instead of being resentful that those new to the faith have fresh energy and enthusiasm, shouldn’t we be glad that God is continuing to work with us sometimes through them? It’s not about who was first or who came late, it’s not about who does it this way or who wants to do it another way, it’s not about what the rewards will be. It’s about understanding and imitating God’s very generous love. It’s about rejoicing in God’s ability to transform and recapture our faith as well as the faith of our friends, our community and even our enemies. It’s about understanding that God will do new things through whomever God chooses. We are all equally precious to God and no one of us has special privilege in the kingdom of God. God needs us to be listening to the grains of truth each of us has been given, to pay attention and not resent the gifts God has given to others so that we may grow stronger in faith and in faithful service. 
 
I will leave you with one more story. A woman was getting ready to celebrate her 100th birthday, and her three sons thought they should get her especially nice gifts in honor of the occasion. So they tried to outdo each other. The first son bought her a magnificent 15-room mansion to live in. The second son purchased her a brand new luxury car, complete with a chauffeur. But the third son though he’d get his mother something really special. He knew his mother was a religious person. So, even though it was extremely expensive, he bought her a parrot that had been trained to recite the entire Bible. It had taken a monk 15 years to teach the bird to be able to do that. All his mother had to do was name a chapter and verse, and right away the parrot would be able to quote the passage of scripture for her. After her birthday the mother sent her sons notes. She thanked her first son for the house, but said it was too big and she only lived in one room. She thanked the second son for the car, but said that at her age she never really like to go out and that she didn’t particularly care for the way the chauffer drove. But the gift she got from the third son was the one she like most of all. She wrote, “Dear Son, you always know how to get me the best and most practical kinds of gifts.” At this point the son beamed with pride thinking he had truly given the best gift. Then he continued to read, “That was the most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten!” 
 
Do we recognize and appreciate the gifts that God gives us? Or are we too busy being resentful of the gifts that those around us are receiving. Are we too busy looking for our rewards, rather than standing amazed at the goodness of our very generous and loving God?
  

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