The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20A (September 21, 2014)
Lessons:Jonah 3:10-4:11 Psalm 145:1-8 Philippians 1:21-30 St. Matthew 20:1-16
Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Exodus 16:2-15 Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants. Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, grant us your merciful judgment, and train us to embody the generosity of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
20.1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. 6 And 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?' 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.' 8 When 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.' 9 When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, 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.' 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
St. Matthew 20:1-16, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Grace in the Vineyard
What is the kingdom of heaven like? I am thinking of images from a wide range of sources. Songs (especially some of the old spirituals), movies, stories, and pieces of art have all contributed to my personal vision of what the kingdom of heaven will be like. But as I try to form a picture in my mind, I can't say that it is based on anything I have read in the Bible, because the Bible teaches us about heaven in a different way than that.
What is the kingdom of heaven like? In the Gospels, Jesus offers many answers. The kingdom of heaven is like: a sower who goes out to sow seeds, a grain of mustard seed, a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants, someone looking for fine pearls, ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom, a woman who lost a coin, a shepherd, who upon missing a lamb… Jesus teaches often about the kingdom of heaven, but for him the kingdom of heaven is described more like a verb than a noun. We don't hear what heaven will look like; what we will look like in heaven; what sort of accommodations we will have… We don't even hear whether heaven is an actual place (physical or spiritual). Instead, we hear how one becomes part of the kingdom of heaven. We hear how God goes about including people in the kingdom of heaven. And we begin to understand not so much how the Kingdom of Heaven will look, or feel, or function, but how we are welcomed into it, and made a part of it by the One who died for us.
In this week's Gospel lesson, the disciples (who left home and family to follow Jesus) are wondering what special reward they will receive for their faithfulness. Jesus tells them a parable about a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He hired some then, and again at 9:00 am, and again at noon, and at 3:00 pm and finally at 5:00 pm. When quitting time came, they were all paid a day’s wage — a gesture that the latecomers appreciated, but which offended those who had worked all day. It wasn’t fair, of course. But that is the point. God isn’t fair. If God was fair, we’d all get what we deserve. (And who would want that?)
This kingdom of heaven image from Jesus comes to us as a comfort and as a warning. A comfort, because the invitation is always there for each of us. It is never to late for us to turn to God. A warning, because there will indeed be those welcomed into the family after you and me. Our task is to love and welcome them just as God does, not feeling haughty or more important because we were there first, but instead meeting them with great joy for their faith.
What is the kingdom of heaven like? Our Bible doesn't give us the answer to that question, other than assuring us that we will be with God. How does one become included in the kingdom of heaven? That is the most important question. Whether we are lifelong members of the faith or recent converts; whether we have been following Jesus for years or are just now considering the life of discipleship; whether we've put in hours of service to our Lord or were “hired” at the last moment; each of us is welcomed into the fullness of the promise that is ours, not because of what we’ve done, or because of what we’ll do, but because of what Christ has done for us. That is the good news. And thanks be to God for that!
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- Why do the disciples ask about what reward they will receive in the kingdom of heaven?
- What is the central message of Jesus’ response to them?
- On what do his words direct us to focus, as his faithful followers?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- When have I felt most assured of my relationship with God? (When have I struggled?)
- How does this text affirm God’s love for me, and deepen my trust in God?
- What is the most important work for me to be about as a follower of Jesus Christ?