Gift of Heaven

Scriptures: Matthew 20:1-16; Exodus 16:2-15

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

In God’s manna economy, each one is given enough for the day.  If a person hoarded up more than needed (for example two days’ worth of food instead of one), extra would go bad.  Commentator Charles Campbell reminds us that, “The leaders and the servants receive the same amount; the people who work all day and the people who have little to do receive the same amount. The able and the disabled receive the same amount: plenty, but not too much—and it is all a gift.[1]
Where are we in this parable, and where is God?  The landowner chooses to pay each worker what the worker needs for a daily wage.  It is not about the amount of work that gets done or some intricate graph containing apportioned earnings based on hourly expenditure, instead it is about what each person needs. What do we need?  What is needful for our “daily bread?” What does this parable show us about the character of God?  The landowner, while taking care of his land by hiring laborers, goes the extra mile to take care of the workers as well, in an act of unbounded compassion for their own need to live with enough for the day; plenty-but not too much.

Commentator Dorothy Day puts it this way: “[Jesus] spoke of [a] living wage, not equal pay for equal work, in the parable of those who came at the first and the eleventh hour.[2]

Jesus describes God’s heavenly kingdom in new terms, terms we might even call counter-cultural for his present day, not to mention ours!  Just one tiny step further and this describes what our contemporary social politicians would call a communist state.

There is more, however.  The parable exposes what for us too often has become a fundamental social reality.  It painfully unmasks embedded realities that shape our lives to such an extent we cannot even imagine alternatives.  Of our realities, Campbell says: “winner and loser, superior and inferior, insider and outsider, honored and shamed.  [This parable] unmasks an order that often encourages us to pray, “Give me this day my daily bread,” rather than, “Give us this day our daily bread.” [3]
Now comes the hard part.  How would we describe this same Godly social order in today’s terms?  Even more importantly, how would we enact it?  Let’s review for a moment that line in the Lord’s prayer just alluded to.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In that phrase, perhaps, lies one of the keys to the entire Kingdom of Heaven, as Matthew calls it.  Jesus taught us not to pray for ourselves alone, but to pray for ourselves within the context of community.  When we understand ourselves as so interwoven that we cannot distinguish ourselves from the community in which we live and move and have our being, then we cannot, ever really be members of either the haves or the have-nots.  Instead, we lift one another up and support one another with everything we have.  For, together, we have much, much, more than we have individually.  Are there those in this community that need our help?  Help them.  Are there those whose lives are heavily burdened?  Hold them up.  Are there those who hunger?  Feed them.  Thirst?  Give them sustenance.  Struggling?  Give of yourselves and your own treasures to ease their struggle.  It is what God calls us to do.

Commentator Charlotte Cleghorn writes, “This parable is essentially about the generosity of God.  It is not about equity or proper disbursement of wages but about a gracious and undeserved gift.  It is not about an economic exchange but, rather, about a bestowing of grace and mercy to all, no matter what time they have put in or how deserving or undeserving we may think them to be. God’s generosity often violates our own sense of right and wrong, our sense of how things would be if we ran the world.”[4]  To which all I can say is, “thanks be to God that we are members of this alternate reality of God’s heavenly kingdom.  Thanks be to God that if my brother or sister is in need, I am enabled and given the gifts I need in order to share when needed, as an expression of deep caring for another of my community.

“No matter how you interpret this parable, if [we are] being honest, we are the ones who get way more than we deserve; more than was promised. We get not what is right, but what is amazingly good. Even if we want to imagine that we got to the fields first (a tough case for Gentiles to make), we still are recipients of God’s astounding generosity, because while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Do we get what is fair? No, we are gifted with grace – and grace by definition isn’t about fairness or our worthiness, but solely about God’s loving kindness.

Every time, every time, we are tempted to size up who is idle and who should be on the receiving end of generosity (God’s or ours or others), we need to consider this parable and remember, truth be told, we’ve gotten not what we deserve, but what God has generously given: mercy, grace, forgiveness, salvation.”[5]

And this is the gift of heaven, is it not?

May all glory be unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

In Matthew 20:1–16, what is the landowner’s motivation for paying the workers the same wages? When has God provided for you?

Household Prayer: Morning

Dear God, thank you for this day.  Help me hear others as I know that you always hear me. Open my heart and help me give myself with grateful praise to things you have set for me today. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Dear God, thank you for always being with me. Rest now in me, God, so that I will wake in the morning with praise and thanksgiving on my lips. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

 

[1] Charles Campbell, “Theological Perspective, Psalm 119:33-40, Proper 18” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness (New York: Harper & Row, 1952), 205; as quoted in
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[3] Charles Campbell, “Theological Perspective, Psalm 119:33-40, Proper 18” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Charlotte Cleghorn, “Theological Perspective, Psalm 119:33-40, Proper 18” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[5] Jill Duffield, in her e-mail of September 18, 2017, to the Presbyterian Outlook “Looking into the Lectionary” subscriber list (http://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/)

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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