This is a great story and another one that amazes me with the timelessness of the stories we read in the Bible. Maybe that is because today’s story is one of the parables that Jesus used to teach folks. A parable isn’t a literal historic facts kind of story but a story that illustrates a truth that is apparently timeless.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/250340-that-s-outrageous.mp3]
(Remainder of the sermon text – more or less – continues below)
And in today’s parable is the truth that we struggle with idea of fairness just like the workers in the story struggle with fairness. This group of workers has worked all day long, since the early morning. And then, the workers who arrive at the jobsite at nine, noon, three and five o’clock end up getting paid exactly the same amount. This didn’t go over well with the first group of workers. “And when they received it (their pay), they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘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.”
It isn’t in the text but you can picture the next thought that comes out of their mouth. “THAT’S NOT FAIR!” And perhaps that is the thought that came to your mind, too.
How many times have we said THAT in our lives?
Clearly, the situation isn’t fair. Different groups of workers working different sets of hours and all receiving the same amount of pay. That’s not right, is it? That’s outrageous.
Again, this is a parable, a teaching story that illustrates a point. Sometimes that point isn’t entirely obvious but this story isn’t teaching us that everyone should get paid the same no matter how much work they’ve done. It is a story about generosity. GOD’s generosity. It’s a story about God’s care and concern for each and every one of us.
How does the story strike us if we see it from the perspective of getting what WE deserve when it comes to God? If we had to earn God’s love based on our thoughts and actions, would we be lovable, sort of lovable or not really lovable at all? If God’s love depended on us would God love us?
Probably not but here is the story behind the story. Jesus is using a story that seems pretty much outrageous in its lack of fairness to make the point that God’s love for us is not conditional. God’s love for us depends solely on God. God’s love for us is not based on what we do or say. That’s outrageous.
Churches can be funny places. We get accused of being a bunch of hypocrites and that is often true. It gets to be kind of a vicious circle sometimes. I’ve felt judged when I’ve been in a church. And then I turn around and judge those who are judging me. It gets kind of silly, doesn’t it? Why would we spend time doing something, judging others, that God isn’t doing?
And you want to be tested on how far God’s love can go, spend some time in prison ministry. I was in prison ministry several years, both before I was in full-time church work and after. I learned a couple of things in prison ministry.
One of the things I learned was my own tendency toward judgmentalism. I mean, it is a fine thing to ponder in the abstract but when you come face to face with convicted criminals you have to come to grips with the reality that God really does love them. They may well not deserve God’s love but God loves them anyway.
The other thing I had to come to terms with was to answer the question, what if the most horrible person in prison, who spent a lifetime committing the most horrendous crimes was baptized at the very last minute before they died. Would God welcome them into the kingdom of heaven?
The answer is yes. A troubling yes, a hesitant yes but the only answer to that question is that God can and will welcome them into the kingdom of heaven. God can and will welcome them into the kingdom of heaven with arms wide open. God can and will welcome them into the kingdom of heaven with arms stretched as wide as Christ’s arms on the cross. Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. All of our sins, great and small. That’s outrageous.
What would this parable sound like if it came from the perspective of those standing all day hoping for work? Picture standing around with a group of men, hoping for work. Hoping that you’ll get something to take home at the end of the day. Clearly they want to work because they’re there waiting for, hoping for something. Even waiting until 5 o’clock hoping to get at least a little something. If this was the parable of the lazy workers they’d have taken off after not getting chosen the first round. Certainly after the second. But they needed something so they stayed. And hoped.
And their hope was fulfilled. So it is with us in Jesus Christ. We need something so we stay. And we hope. And our hope will be fulfilled.
The truth is, anyone can be fair but it is much harder to be generous. Our challenge then is to be as generous as God. Our challenge is to Bring Christ’s Love to Life which presumes a generosity that goes well beyond fairness. Comedian Louis CK put it this way – The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to see if they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have… as much as them.