September 24, 2017
Matthew 20. 1-16
+ I recently came across a big, black three-ring binder that I called my “Commonplace Book.” About 20 years this binder contained all the copies of the documents I needed when I was going through the process of ordination. There was even a checklist inside the cover, with dates as I progressed toward ordination.
I have to admit: as I look at it now, all these years later, it all seems so…cut and dry. It seems so effortless when I look at it now. But, let me tell you, anyone who knew me then and knew the arduous journey I took during that time knew: there was nothing cut and dry or effortless about any of it. It was often an uphill struggle. It seemed for every step forward there were two steps backward. And there were a few times when I had to say to myself,
“This is all so unfair!”
Now, that’s not a very adult thing to say. Any of us who have made it to adulthood have learned, by now, that none of it is fair. One of the biggest things we learn as adults is that life is not fair. And no one promised us that it would be.
Still, we do still cling to that belief. Things should be fair. A perfect world would be a fair world.
And when it comes to our relationship with God, fairness takes on even more of a meaning. God should be fair, we think. And it seems that when God is not fair, what do we do? We rage. We get angry.
God should be on our side on this one. Right?
But, it seems, not always is God on our side on some things. The scale of fairness is not always tipped in our favor.
To put it in the context of our Gospel reading today, I often 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 think: “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. We would strike out.
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 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 the Church—that’s a different thing. 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, that 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 might not be getting the fair deal.
And there’s the rub. There’s the key. Being a follower of Jesus means striving to make sure that all of us on this side of the “veil” get an equal share of the Kingdom of God, even if we ourselves might not sometimes. 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.
What do we feel when we treated unfairly? Jealousy? Bitterness? Anger?
It means not letting jealousy and bitterness win out. And that’s probably what we’re going to feel when others get a good deal and we don’t. Jealousy and envy are horribly corrosive emotions. They eat and eat away at us until they 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 the ones following the rules, we are the ones striving to live our lives as “good” Christians. We fast, we say our prayers faithfully, we tithe, we follow the rules, 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 obsessing over the fact that, “It’s not fair.” Even when it is unfair. Because when we do those things, we must ask ourselves a very important question (a question I ask a lot):
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? Do we do what we do so we can feel good about ourselves at the end of the day?
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 and all the very good things that Kingdom represents.
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 also 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 the unfairness of it all.
And just when we think the unfairness of this world has won out—in that moment—that holy 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 God comes.
So, let us continue to do what we are doing as followers of Jesus. Let us strive to do even better. In everything 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.
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—God who really is a fair God! 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.