The Parable of the Workers

The First Reading from Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but” against the Lord. 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“  13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20                 The Parable of the Workers – a homily by Mother Beth

It is hard, at times, to not look around and wonder why it is that if everyone is blessed why are some more blessed than others?   And in the interest of making sense of wealth and success we often find ourselves looking at strategy – measuring ourselves against others and attempting to judge the “fairness” of it all.  We could say this is a new problem – a problem in the Western world where consumerism and market share rules the world and yet, the gospel lesson today speaks about this very issue.

The gospel written more than a thousand years ago on the other side of the world.  And that tells me that it is not such a new problem but rather a long-standing human inclination – that we from the beginning of time, or at least the fall of man, have being keeping track of each other and measuring our worth against the worth of another.

Jesus starts his parable saying, “The kingdom of God is like a landowner”.  Let’s not miss the point of this parable – Jesus is explaining or painting a word picture of how God’s economy works.  He is revealing God’s character and that is the most important and encouraging point of the story.  No matter what we have experienced at the hand of others – at the hand of the religious – or at the hand of the church – this is who God is.

The landowner goes out to find workers and he agrees to pay them a fair wage for their work.  And the landowner continues to go out throughout the day to find workers – he doesn’t just invite once and then that is the end of his invitation –he continues to go out at the beginning of the day, at nine o’clock and noon and at three and then finally at five o’clock the landowner is still out looking for more workers to come in and get paid for their work.    God’s invitation is on-going.  There is still time to be welcomed in.  Do not feel like you have missed the one opportunity that there was to receive what God has for you.  Do not let others make you feel like you have missed it.  God is the patient and faithful landowner who keeps looking for workers throughout the day.

The parable starts at the end of chapter 19 when Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”  And then ends with Jesus saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  We jokingly use this saying especially if we find ourselves at the end of the buffet line but, what is the point of this mixing up of firsts and lasts?  Who really wants to be last?

In a buffet line we might be worried that the food will run out before we get there.  Or at least we are concerned that that one piece of pie that we have been eyeing will not be there by the time we make it through the line.  The good news for us is that God’s love and grace are endless.  There is no danger that He will run out of whatever good thing it is that we need from him.

This parable reminds us that the last are treated just as the first and the first are treated just as the last.  Neither is a position of honor and both are equally welcome to God’s grace and mercy.   God himself is Alpha and Omega – the Beginning and the End.  Whether first or last we all are welcome to partake in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

But let’s face it we often get caught up the economy of this world.  When the workers get paid and the landowner suggests that the last workers to be hired should be paid first – they are given a full day’s wage.  So the others looking on are quick to assume that they must be getting more – that’s only fair.  And as the first workers get paid and receive also a full day’s wage – they are disappointed and complain, “You have made them equal to us!”  Isn’t that our response to others much of the time?  We might not mind working alongside someone but we are quick to notice that they do not do as much work as we do.    We notice how long their lunch break is or how often they stop to talk at the water cooler.   We are quick to feel slighted.

We could think about this parable in terms of the church.  We forget that we are not earning our way into God’s grace and so sometimes we are indignant that others who have just started attending church or those who don’t come all that often get to share in the great gift of God’s grace and mercy.  We are less inclined to have them in positions of authority or for them to have a say in how we do things around here.

But God’s grace knows no time – like the master in the parable – God is pleased that we have chosen to show up no matter what time it is – no matter how long the road that led us back to Him.

And those of us who have been in the church a long time should rejoice with those who are new to faith.  Excited that they have come to know God – pleased that they want to labor with us and alongside us.  Grateful to be on this journey with them and with God.

Years ago in North Bay, Ontario we received a full basket of Christmas goodies – a gift from a church community and I remember being overwhelmed but also feeling embarrassed – we take it as someone’s judgment of our inability to pay for ourselves.  We are so used to being criticized and judged that we see being helped as a sign of weakness and so we resent it – like we don’t need the help – feeling like we should repay it if not to the person it came from then to someone else.

But God’s generosity is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about  – nor is it something that can be repaid.

God’s generosity doesn’t make sense in the world’s economy and it does not play by our rules of fair.  It just is.  The very essence of God is generous.

Let’s remember God’s generosity towards us and be thankful that no matter where we come from or what hour of the day we have arrived, God is pleased that we showed up!   God welcomes us.

As we go about our week, let’s look for opportunities to extend God’s welcome to all those who might feel like they have missed their chance to be reconciled to God and to the church.   Let us extend to those who are willing to come and join in our labor in God’s vineyard.

And as God’s representatives we ask that God we help us to learn to be generous in our approach to others.   I know that sometimes it is hard to be vulnerable and to talk about Jesus with others.  It can be uncomfortable to invite people to join us in prayer or at church.  The challenge in the gospel today is for us to extend generously to others – to not just ask once but to keep asking – to keep offering – to keep extending just as our Heavenly Father has continued to ask, offer and extend to us.

How will the Love of God make itself manifest in the world but through us!   We love God because we have been loved by God and that love should flow through us to others.  We are gracious because God has been gracious with us and that grace cannot help but flow through us to others.  We are generous in hospitality and welcome because God has been generous toward us and as we spend time with Him and become more like Jesus that generosity flows through us to others.

This week, may God open our eyes to those individuals around us who are longing to be invited and welcomed.  May he strengthen us and give us courage so that we might partner with him in welcoming others on this journey with Christ.

Published by

revbethpessah

A transplanted Canadian living in sunny Florida. An Episcopal priest, wife, mother, dog lover, story teller and avid movie watcher.

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