Sunday, September 18, 2011

14 Pentecost

September 18, 2011


Matthew 20. 1-16

+ Every morning, when I pray Morning Prayer, I pray this petition: I pray for all “who are jealous of me, and all for whom I am jealous.”

I think that has to be one of the most presumptuous prayers one can ever pray. Because, recently I was thinking about this petition. And I was trying to think of one person I could name who I could even think was jealous of me. And I couldn’t think of one person. I’m just not one of those people about whom anyone is jealous I think.

But the second part of that petition is a bit more accurate. There ARE people I am jealous of. I am jealous of people whoa re more successful than me, who are happier in their professional and personal lives than me. There are people out there whose lives just seem to go along swimmingly, without any seeming effort, while I seem to struggle every so often.

Jealousy is one of those natural feelings we have. And I think my jealousy, at least at this point in my life, tends to deal with a sense of unfairness. I feel jealous when I realize how unfair it is that someone else has something I don’t . Yes, I know: it’s a very selfish, self-centered thing to do. But I do find myself fuming over the unfairness of life sometimes.

Or to put it in the context of our Gospel reading today, I feel like one of the workers who has been working from the beginning of the work day. The parable Jesus tells us this morning is, of course, not just a story about vineyard workers. The story really, for us anyway, is all about that sense of unfairness. If you’re anything like me, when you hear today’s Gospel—and you’re honest with yourself—you probably thought: “I agree with the workers who have been working all day: It just isn’t fair that these workers hired later should get the same wages.”

It’s not fair that the worker who only works a few hours makes the same wages as one who has worked all day. Few of us, in our own jobs, would stand for it. We too would whine and complain. But the fact is, as we all know by this time, life is not fair. Each of here this morning has been dealt raw deals in our lives at one point or another. We have all known what it’s like to not get the fair deal. We all have felt a sense of jealousy and unfairness over the raw deals of this life.

But, as much as we complain about it, as much as make a big deal of it, we are going to find unfairness in this life. Of course, our personal lives are one thing. But for me, as I hope for most of us, this morning, we can do something about this sense of unfairness in the Church. What we find in today’s parable is exactly what many of us have had to deal with in the Church.

The story of the parable is that everyone—no matter how long they’ve been laboring—gets an equal share. And in Jesus’ ministry, that’s exactly what happens as well. As one of my personal theological heroes, the great Reginald Fuller, once said of this parable: “[This] is what God is doing in Jesus’ ministry—giving the tax collectors and prostitutes an equal share with the righteous in the kingdom.”

The marginalized, the maligned, the social outcast—all of them are granted an equal share. To me, it sounds like the ministry we are all called to do as followers of Jesus.

To be a follower of Jesus is strive to make sure that everyone gets a fair deal, even when we ourselves not be getting the fair deal. It means striving to make sure that all of us on this side of the “veil” get an equal share of the Kingdom of God. That is what we do as followers of Jesus and that is what we need to strive to continue to do.

But…it’s more than just striving for an equal share for others. It also means not doing some things as well. It means not lamenting the unfairness of what an equal share means for us. It means not letting jealousy win out. Because jealousy is a horribly corrosive emotion. It eats and eats away at us until it makes us bitter and angry. And jealousy is simply not something followers of Jesus should be harboring in their hearts. Because jealousy can also lead us into a place in which we are not striving for the Kingdom.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus are striving, always, again and again, to do the “right thing.” But when we do, and when we realize that others are not and yet they are still reaping the rewards, we no doubt are going to feel a bit jealous. We, although few of us would admit it, are often, let’s face it, the “righteous” ones. We follows the rules, we strive to live our lives as good Christians. We fast, we say our prayers faithfully, we tithe, we do what we are supposed to do as good Christians. Striving for the equal share for people, means not allowing ourselves to get frustrated over the fact that those people who do not do those things—especially those people whom we think don’t follow the rules at all, those people who aren’t “righteous” by our standards—also receive an equal share. It means not crying to ourselves, “It’s not fair.”

Because when we do those things, we must ask ourselves a very important question: why do we do what we do as Christians? Do we do what we do so we can call ourselves “righteous?” Do we do what we do as Christians because we believe we’re going to get some reward in the next life? Do we do what do because we think God is in heaven keeping track of all our good deeds like some celestial Santa Claus? Do we do what do simply because we think we will get something in return? Or do we do what we do because doing so makes this world a better place?

This is the real key to Jesus’ message to us. Constantly, Jesus is pushing us and challenging us to be a conduit. He is trying to convince us that being a Christian means being a conduit for the Kingdom of God.

In us, the Kingdom breaks through. Without us, it simply will not.

We do what we do as Christians because whatever we do is a way in which the barriers that separate us here from God and God’s world is lifted for a brief moment when we do what Jesus tells us to do. When we live out the Law of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, the “veil” is lifted and when it is lifted, the Kingdom comes flooding into our lives. It does not matter in the least how long we labor in allowing this divine flood to happen. The amount of time we put into it doesn’t matter in the least to God, because God’s time is not our time. Rather, we simply must do what we are called to do when we are called to do it.

Jesus came to bring an equal share to a world that is often a horribly unfair place. And his command to us is that we must strive to bring an equal share to this unequal world. And that is what we’re doing as followers of Jesus. As we follow Jesus, we do so knowing that we are striving to bring about an equal share in a world that is often unfair. We do so, knowing that we are sometimes swimming against the tide. We do so, feeling at times, as though we’re set up to fail. We do so feeling, at times, overwhelmed with jealousy. And just when we think the unfairness of this world has won out—in that moment, the Kingdom of God always breaks through to us. And in that moment, we are the ones who are able to be the conduit through which the Kingdom of God comes.

So, let us continue to do what we are doing as followers of Jesus. Let us strive to do even better. In every thing we do, let us attempt to lift that veil in our lives and by doing so, let us be the conduit through which the Kingdom of God will flood into this unfair world. And let us do together what Jesus is calling us to do in this world

Let us love—fully and completely. Let us love our God, let us love our selves and let us neighbors as ourselves. As we all know, it’s important to come here and share the Word and the Eucharist on Sundays. But we also know that what we share here motivates us to go out into the world and actually “do” our faith.

A quote you’ve heard me share more than once here, from the great Anglican bishop of Zanzibar, Frank Weston, is this:

“You have Christ in your tabernacles.”—we have Christ here, present in our Eucharist—“now go out and seek Him in the highways and the hedges...”

As followers of Jesus, we are full of hope—a hope given to us by a God who knows our future and who wants only good for us. Let us go forth with that hope and with a true sense of joy that we are doing what we can to make that future glorious.

1 comment:

mcmulcat said...

I appreciate this essay.
When my beloved grandmother died, I sat with four of my favorite cousins and we talked about Grandma. Due to too much grief and too much wine, one of us--I really cannot recall which of us--said something like, "I always felt a bit guilty because I was Grandma's favorite." This comment was followed by three beats of silence, and then another cousin said: "No, she loved ME best."
We all laughed, because we realized that Grandma's great gift was that she loved each of us "best" and "most."
This was but one of the ways in which my grandmother, a dear sweet and simple woman (in the best sense of the word) showed us God's great love: God loves all of us best and most. We are each God's favorite. I try, not always successfully, to remember that when I am jealous of people who seem to have God's special favor, or when I delude myself into thinking God favors me.