September 24, 2017
Just the other day, I was with a group of friends from my college days. One of the organizers of the event asked me to offer a blessing before the meal. It is just one of the common things that happens to a priest. After the meal, I had someone come up to me and say, I guess we are different because I am an agnostic. I heard the statement as a challenge and my response was that I was not trying to convert him. After wards, I decided that I was not helpful. I thought it would have been better to say that we are not so different you know. For all of us at different times in our lives have questions about our beliefs and our faith. Once again, today’s scripture causes us to question one of our commonly held expectations. This time it is about fairness.
Our sense of fairness usually is tested when someone mistreats another human being or when something bad happens. There have been more than ten little children killed in swimming pool accidents in the Phoenix metropolitan area this year. It doesn’t seem fair. Many times it seems that the so-called bad people come out on top. It doesn’t seem fair. It might even become personal. I think I have done a lot of work but someone else is recognized and congratulated on their accomplishments and I am not. It isn’t fair.
And how about the questions we ask of God. Why did God let the hurricanes cause so much damage and kill so many people? Why did God let that earthquake kill so many people in Mexico? It doesn’t seem fair that humans experience such tragedy.
But today we must confront the issue from the other side for we are brought far to face with God’s compassion and generosity. In today’s parable, Jesus tells us that many people will be accepted into God’s kingdom. The reward will be the same for people who have been faithful for their entire life and those who only come to God during their last breath. The landlord in the parable asks two questions of the workers, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Can we take a few moments and deal with those two questions? Are we envious of others who are accepted by God? Do we struggle with God’s abundant mercy?
Ok, I know the answers because I have given them myself. Whenever someone says life isn’t fair, our immediate response is that’s right life isn’t fair. All of us have so many examples of times when life wasn’t fair that we just say, that is right life isn’t fair. But, don’t we still wish that is was? Don’t we still believe that it should be? I do. Debie Thomas writes for an online web magazine called Journey with Jesus. She wrote this “we know how the world is supposed to work. Time is money, and fair is fair. Equal pay for equal work is fair. Equal pay for unequal work is NOT fair.” I have the answers to that question as well. God’s ways are not our ways. We cannot understand how God works. Good answers. Let’s try to dig a little deeper.
Whenever I hear this story about the workers in the vineyard, I always imagine that I was one of the first workers in God’s kingdom. I have been a believer for my entire life. I say to myself that I have worked to follow God’s will in this world. I have tried to care for others. Yes, I sometimes think that God isn’t fair for having accepted those who have not been as faithful as I have been.
Perhaps it is helpful to ask why did some come to God so late? Debie Thomas wrote this about the parable of the laborers in the vineyard story and how it might apply in today’s world. “Why did some laborers end up unemployed until 5pm? The parable is very clear: because no one would hire them. Perhaps they weren’t as literate, educated, or skilled as their competition. Perhaps they had children to care for at home. Maybe they had transportation difficulties. Maybe they were disabled or didn’t have greencards or suffered discrimination. Whatever the case may be, the landowner doesn’t ask these laborers to defend themselves. He just makes sure that every worker ends the day with the dignity and security of a living wage — the capacity to go home that night and feed his family.”
Is it possible that some come to understand God later in their life for totally understandable reasons? Perhaps they had a learning disability or were not in a place where they heard God’s message. When we think like this it becomes harder and harder to judge them harshly.
It is so easy for our judgment to be clouded, to be biased because we don’t see the whole story. So, when I am judgmental about others, I realize that kind of thinking is just envy and envy is a sin. I realize that I am judging myself and judging others and that is not my job. Envy can make us bitter. Bitterness is not a good trait for anyone. I think it is hard to be non judgmental, it is hard to understand how God acts.
How about the possibility that we are really not the workers who came to the vineyard early but rather those who came late? While I think I have been faithful perhaps I have not. Then, wouldn’t I be excited to hear these words, to know that God is generous, that we will be included in those who are accepted into heaven in spite of what we have done?
I tried to find some examples of generosity that might help us understand God’s actions better. I am thinking of the ladies of our congregation who give so much for this congregation and for needy people in our community. I was thankful yesterday that they hosted another fabulous reception after the memorial service for Nanci Ahern. The food was plentiful. The ladies are hospitable and generous.
Or how about some financially successful business people who have become philanthropists. I thought of Bill Gates. A year ago Bloomberg reported Mr. Gates, to date, "has donated more than $30 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which so far has given away $35 billion in grants to fight hunger, disease and poverty”. Aug 22, 2016
In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, announced that he and his wife would give 99 percent of their Facebook shares “during our lives” — holdings currently worth more than $45 billion — to charitable purposes. Dec 1, 2015
In 2006, Warren Buffett announced that he would gradually give away the majority of his fortune to charity, he wasn't kidding. In July of this year, the billionaire investor donated another 18.6 million Class B shares of Berkshire Hathaway worth $3.17 billion to five different foundations. That puts his total charitable contribution to the organizations at $27.54 billion in just over ten years.
Certainly this are great examples of generosity but they don’t seem comparable to what God does for each of us. For God gives us something that money cannot buy. God gives us eternal life.
Another important message that we can take away from this lesson is that none of us is worthy of God’s generosity. Or perhaps a better way to say it is all of us are worthy of God’s generosity.
In one of my scriptural commentaries I found this “God never gives any of us what we think is our due. God gives, not out of any real need for our services, but because the nature of God is love. And the nature of love is to be giving. 1st John has a verse that goes like this, “Not that we loved God but that God loved us.” For that we must be eternally thankful, for the Divine gift always exceeds anything we can do or imagine.”
You know when you really think about it, it is better that God is the one who makes the judgements. If we were the ones to decide we would probably make a mess of things. I think today is one of those times that we just accept God’s generosity and be thankful. Let us seek to avoid envy and bitterness. Let us just put the questions about fairness to the side. After all, Can’t God do what God wants with what belongs to God? Amen.
Last modified on Friday, 13 October 2017 21:52
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