The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
September 22, 2002
Isaiah 55:6-9 + Philippians 1:20-27 + Matthew 20:1-16
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…..that is the point of this parable, a landowner. It has nothing to do with wages, work, hours, or justice. It has to do with the landowner – God. It tells us about God, and in so doing, we find out something about ourselves. It does not explain divine justice, but stirs us to wonder about how God acts toward us. Even adjusted to the time and place in history from which it comes, the story makes no sense. After all, what employer who was going to do what this one did would have the ones who worked the longest hang around to be paid last and see what was going on? He would have paid them first and had them out of there so they would not see what those who came last received. This behavior makes no sense unless you are Matthew’s Jesus and want to stop people in their tracks and leave them wondering.
Wonder, we should, at this story of God’s care for us. The trouble is, we don’t wonder. We are too busy looking around at everyone else. Instead of being focused on God, and living in that provident, loving friendship, we are comparing and competing, day in and day out. Instead of living with our gaze on the source of all that we have, we are looking to see who got what, how much, and when. Echoes of our childhood are heard in our whining. “It’s not fair! He got a bigger piece!” “How come he gets to stay up longer than me?” Sometimes the laments are unspoken, but heard nonetheless. The rejection comes from a job we wanted. Someone we know gets more financial aid for school, and we need it more. Someone else gets a raise, and their work isn’t as good as ours……
Toxic thoughts that get internalized and lead to depression and anger. A parable about God gives us reason to think about ourselves. A parable about God calls into question the ideology of entitlement and uncovers our self-centered, self-serving, competitive vision of things. But the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner, it says. And the landowner is the one we should leave here thinking of. If the parable is true, it leaves us humbled, embarrassed by our whining, and stunned once again by grace. Few of us have earned a full day’s wage; and I suspect that those who have would think they had not done enough.
The question asked in the parable is probably one being asked again today: “Why are you standing around all day idol?” It’s a loaded question that invites us to take a long look at what we do all day. When you think about how far we still have to go to establish the Kingdom of God; we know there is work to do in the vineyard. The work of Justice, the work of Peace, the work of Forgiveness, the Work of Healing and Reconciliation. Probably if we were not so worried about what everyone else has, concentrated a little more on what we do have and what we can do with it because of the one who gave it and called us to use it, there would be a lot less anger, resentment, and jealousy spoiling our days in the vineyard. The results of those days would certainly be more productive. Then when we saw God’s gifts lavished on others we could rejoice with them and for them.
In moments of clarity and honesty, we ought to breathe a sigh of relief, for when we look honestly at how we often think and behave, and then remember that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways, it’s probably a good thing! This Parable is about God and about us. It is not about anyone else. It is about the awe we experience when we think of how God cares for us, and it is about our work in the vineyard.