Good Morning! Welcome to this mornings service.
Worship today is led by Pam Grayling and Glenda Taylor, and will be streamed in to church as well as your home!
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Thank you to all those who have been part of putting together this weeks service.
Message - Glenda Taylor
When we are faced with certain situations in life it is so easy to say it’s not fair and go off and sulk in a corner. This morning I would like us firstly to think about the notion of fairness and secondly to concentrate on our reading from Matthew, telling us all about a group of vineyard workers. I want us to think about the passage in context and then to explore what it means for us today. Finally, I want us to consider the link between this passage and our Old Testament reading from Jonah and leave you with a few questions to consider.
I remember many years ago a time when Andy and I were heading to Cornwall for a family holiday. We stopped at one of the service stations on the motorway and one of our daughter’s, Emily, used a twenty pence piece to try and grab a cuddly toy in a machine. To our amazement she caught a hedgehog and yet a much older person put in pounds worth of twenty pence pieces and didn’t manage to win anything. He was annoyed.
Sometimes people live healthy lifestyles and don’t smoke but end up with lung cancer while others smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for years and are just fine. I could give many examples of situations which are not fair. Life is just not fair.
How many other examples of un-fairness could we think of? In the end, our sense of fairness is most keen when we feel we are the victims of an injustice. Or when we feel someone is treated more favourably than we are – for no good reason. The common thread in this thought process is this:
1) I am good. I deserve good things. 2) I am not receiving good things. 3) Something must be wrong. 4) Who is going to fix it?
Jesus knew the same, that life isn’t fair. And so, he told a parable about it. The parables of Jesus are masterful. He takes a common situation and tells a story we can remember. He puts heavenly meaning into earthly things. And we can all relate to it. This parable is no different.
Concentrating on our Matthew reading; the situation is common enough – an employer is hiring. As was the norm in the ancient world and even in some places today – the employer hires day-labourers. The vineyard owner hires men to help him at 4 different times during the 12-hour working day. Now this is a little strange, especially the hiring at the last minute. The first workers are promised a silver coin, a typical day’s wage. The terms of the subsequent hiring are a bit vague, though. “I will pay you a fair wage” is what is said.
When payment time comes at the end of the day, those working longest begin to wonder – what will I be paid? They see that those who started work towards the end of the day received a silver coin just as the workers who started first had been promised. They got their hopes up as they expected to be paid more than those latecomers. So, when they received the same – they were upset. And we can relate to that feeling. It didn’t seem fair. But after all, it was the agreement they made with the owner. Some were treated very generously but none were treated unjustly. The owner had kept his word. He had used his money to pay others in line with his own sense of fairness and he had a right to do so.
What then is this parable about?
We should not rush into assuming this parable is about how to get into heaven or what it is like there. Jesus was talking about a social arrangement which could be envisioned on earth. In the parable the Kingdom of heaven is likened, in one respect, to how a landlord treated his day labourers. By agreement they all get the same, one denarius, which is a subsistence wage for a family for one day. It is standard pay but not generous. The parable is about the landowner’s compassion, for he is ensuring that each worker’s family will not be deprived of food that day. It is reminiscent of the Jubilee regulations which wrote off debt to third world countries on the basis that no-one should be so crippled by debt that they starve.
What is surprising is that the landowner does not ensure that he has a full workforce at the beginning of the day. This suggests that the story is about more than employment law or equal opportunities.
The parable gives us guidance on how to follow and serve our Lord. As Christians it encourages us to think:
1) Am I that good really? No. 2) Am I receiving good things? We all do, in abundance. Sometimes just not the ones we want when we want them. 3) Is something wrong? Yes, but with us, not with God. 4) Don’t worry. God will fix it. He already has.
We are treated unfairly by God but in our favour. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our sins. If the treatment we receive is in our favour we don’t tend to complain about it. Was the servant who came last to the field the one complaining about receiving an entire day’s wage? No. It is the other servants who felt they deserved more – they spoke up. One lesson to be learnt from this story is the great danger in comparing ourselves to others. We risk losing sight of our own faults and failings. So which servant are you? Which one am I? We should see ourselves, with humility, as that final servant – the one who deserves it least. For, in all fairness, none of us deserves the blessings God gives. Perhaps this is where the extension of the parable must end – for workers deserve a wage, but we deserve punishment, not grace. So, God is, in a sense, unfair. He is unfair to us in a good way, and that is something to be thankful for. Turning to our reading from Jonah; God wants to save the people of Nineveh from their wickedness in the seventh century before Christ. He calls Jonah to prophesy repentance and forgiveness to them but Jonah objects to Gentiles being saved and escapes to sea. There is a storm, he is thrown overboard and is then swallowed by a fish. Back on land he does as he is told and goes to Nineveh. Against all expectations the people believe his message and God withholds his punishment.
In verse 10 of chapter 3 we read:
“God saw what they did; he saw that they had given up their wicked behaviour. So, he changed his mind and did not punish them as he said he would.”
But as a Jewish nationalist who thinks that Gentiles ought to be punished, Jonah sulks at the outcome. He says he wants to die but is told off by God for caring more about his own fate than that of a hundred and twenty thousand people.
What then is the link between our Matthew passage and our reading from Jonah? If Jonah could have heard the passage from Matthew, he would probably have realised that Jews and Gentiles were equally welcome in God’s Kingdom. In fact, I think he did know that because God showed him that the people of Nineveh were important to him. Jonah didn’t want to accept this and was sulking as a result. He did not want to accept that God treats everyone equally regardless of their background and achievement. This is the common thread coming through both readings.
Finally, I’m going to leave you with a few questions which enable reflection on our parable in the light of our churches today.
How do long standing members of a congregation feel about newcomers stepping into roles previously occupied by established members?
How do they feel about people who want to do things differently?
How does a community support the self-esteem of its members so that they are secure enough not to sulk?
How can those who have been Christian longest express their delight in embracing others and share service?
Let us pray.
Thank you that your treatment of us is not fair. We deserve death but you let your son take our place on the cross so that we can rightly claim a place in your kingdom. We are your sons and daughters because of Christ’s death on the cross and his perfectly lived life. Thank you that in your Kingdom life is not fair. If it were then we would all be in deep trouble. But Jesus took what we deserved and gave us what we don’t deserve. Help us not to become overly concerned with our own opinions and feelings. Help us to look out for one another and put our community before our own importance. Help us to accept everyone regardless of their background and experience.
We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord.