Pentecost 16 Jonah 3:10-4:11 Philippians 1:21-30 Matthew 20:1-16 Let us pray: Gracious and eternal Father, we come to you this day seeking to understand the ways in which your Spirit moves in our lives. Lord, in these moments, may we be moved by love in our hearts and receive wisdom in our minds. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
For the past few Sundays, we've heard Matthew’s Gospel deal with some real, human emotions. He's dug into our daily lives and hit home with some of his comments. Funny how the Bible can do that more often than we expect it to! Two weeks ago Jesus' words told us how to rebuild broken relationships. Last week Jesus challenged us to forgive other’s time after time after time. And, some of you are probably wondering, "Who picked those readings? Is Fr. Jim trying to tell us something?" (Here, I'd like to say, as the kids do, "Well, DUHHHH!!!" but I won't!)
Let me reassure you, there is not a huge problem lurking in the background that I’m trying to get out in the open. And, while there may be a few of you who are uncomfortable because you suspect you might have been singled out by the sermons the past couple weeks, that has not been my intention. But, if God has spoken to you through the scriptures or through the sermon, if God has touched your heart to rebuild a relationship or to grant forgiveness to someone who has wronged you, then the people who set up our series of readings must have been guided by the Lord's hand for that purpose.
Today our lessons once again zero in on a common theme, one that we've all experienced at some time or another. If you have brothers or sisters, you'll know what I mean. If your school days were anything like mine, you'll know what I mean. If your workplace, your home, your social situation has any kind of inequity, you'll relate to today's texts. Let's back up a bit and put the Gospel message into a story and you'll see what it's talking about.
Ruth and Tom were the oldest two kids in their family. Ruth was 13 when Tom was 6. Then there were a couple younger kids, Bill who was 3 and the baby, Sarah. Ruth had been the apple of her parents' eye for several years before Tom had come along. But, she was just as excited as the rest of the family when her new baby brother had been born. He was fun to hold and he slept a lot so Mom still spent plenty of time with Ruth, reading to her and holding her and playing make-believe. But, as Tom got older, he became more active and took up more of Mom's time. Still, Ruth didn't mind too much because, by that time, she had school and friends to spend time with, books to read and "big girl" chores to occupy her time. Mom still tucked her in at night for a few more years and things went along pretty well.
But, then there was that one Christmas... Ruth was 13. And, as most teenagers do, she had started to examine her place in the family. She was the oldest, so of course she thought she should have more privileges than her little brothers and sister. Her parents thought she should have more responsibility, especially in setting a good example for the little ones. Ruth tried hard to live up to her parents' expectations. She got good grades in school. She tried hard not to talk back to her elders. She helped take care of the little ones and ran interference for them when she thought they might be getting into mischief.
So, that Christmas something just didn't seem to make sense. Ruth had asked for only one gift for Christmas. She knew her family couldn't afford much so she thoughtfully kept her wish list small. All she wanted was a small transistor radio. Not a "boom-box" with a CD player and two tape decks, just a small radio she could listen to as she walked to and from school each day.
And that Christmas morning, when Ruth opened her presents, she was very grateful and full of hugs when she opened up that little box and found just what she had asked for, her very own transistor radio. That is, until Tom -- seven years younger, remember -- opened up a similar-sized box and brought out the very same transistor radio. It wasn't even a different color or a different brand or any less than the radio Ruth had been given! And Ruth's Christmas joy turned into anger, jealousy and disappointment. It just wasn't FAIR!!
Ruth was a lot like the people we've heard about in today's readings. First there's Jonah. You'd think that if God had chosen you for a very special purpose you might rejoice in that honor and get your things all packed up and go off to do what God had asked of you. But, not Jonah. We all have heard the story of how Jonah argued with God about what he was supposed to do. In fact, Jonah went so far as to pack his bags and run away from the task God had set before him. Well, as you'll remember, he didn't succeed in avoiding God's purpose for his life.
In today's reading, Jonah, maybe still a little fishy smelling, is talking to God. He's done what God asked of him. He's gone to the sinful people of Nineveh and told them God wants them to repent of their sins. And they listened to him! And they repented, turned away from their sinful actions. But is Jonah happy? No.
Jonah is angry, jealous, and disappointed. I think he figured if he finally followed through and announced God's wrath on Nineveh that those sinful people wouldn't listen to him, and then he'd get to watch all the fireworks as God destroyed those awful people. I'll bet he was really looking forward to watching those terrible people get what was coming to them. But that's not what happened. Those sinful people repented, and God forgave them their sins, gave them a fresh start. So, Jonah yells at God and stomps off in a tizzy and plants himself out in the middle of nowhere to pout!
Jonah is angry with God. He's jealous of the Ninevites who have received forgiveness. He's disappointed that he won't get to see the Mighty Power of God displayed in the way HE expected to see it. God hadn't acted in the way Jonah expected him to, and Jonah got mad. But did God turn away from him? No, God provided shelter for Jonah. Jonah took the great tent-like bush God created for granted. But, as soon as God took it away, here he was complaining again.
Finally, God told him, "Jonah, you only knew the shelter of the bush for a day and a night. I have known the people of Nineveh since I created them. You didn't create the bush. But I created the people. I choose to love all people -- those who do my will and those who LEARN to love me." I think God was trying to let Jonah know that even HE, the reluctant messenger, was loved. I wonder if Jonah ever figured out that God's love was big enough for all people?
In the gospel, we heard about the day workers who were gathered up in the morning, at midday and in the late afternoon to go work in the vineyards. And, when the day of work was complete each was given a full day's pay -- just what they'd agreed to receive when they'd first signed on for the job.
I'm sure that in this day and age, when we legislate the legal minimum hourly wage and examine our pay stubs to make sure the government isn't taking out more taxes than they ought, we can understand what the all-day workers were complaining about in the parable Jesus told. In fact, we might do more than just grumble as the Gospel says the workers did. We would probably raise a mighty stink! We'd protest; we'd get angry; we'd be jealous; and we'd be disappointed.
Like 13-year old Ruth, whose 6 year-old brother received the very same Christmas gift, we'd probably start out by saying, "It's just not fair!"
No, it certainly isn't. Ruth's parents weren't fair. The landowner wasn't fair. With Jonah and the people of Nineveh, God wasn't fair. LIFE ISN'T FAIR.
The movie Amadeus is the story of the great musical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The movie portrayed Mozart as an eccentric, almost schizophrenic genius who, without question, was a very gifted musician and composer. Another composer, the devout Salieri, despised Mozart and considered him immature, flippant, arrogant, and obnoxious. Why should Mozart be such a gifted musician and composer when he didn't deserve it? After all, Salieri was the Lord's servant, in obedience to his Savior Jesus Christ, why shouldn't Christ give him this gift instead of Mozart? He was a better person and he deserved it.
In a moment of despair, Salieri feels that Christ has forsaken him, so he removes his crucifix from the wall and burns it. Salieri could not live with God's love and grace. He wanted fairness and justice; he wanted from God what he thought he had worked for, earned, and deserved.
How many times have we said or heard others say, "It isn’t fair!" Well, I've got news for everyone. God isn't fair either! Grace is not fair...it goes beyond fair. If God were fair, the Ninevites would have been destroyed and Jesus would have never died on the cross!
But God chooses to be merciful. God chooses to go beyond our expectations. Even while we're angry, jealous or disappointed with the way life treats us and those we love, God blesses us each and every day.
We have food to eat, clothes to wear, homes to shelter us and time to consider what is going on in the world.
God is there. God's love surrounds everyone -- the angry ones, the jealous ones, the grieving ones, the happy ones, the generous ones, the comforting ones. God's love is there. And God's love is here.
God's love is for those we love. And, beyond expectations, God's love is for those we have a hard time loving. God's love for them isn't even a different color or a different brand or any less than the love we have been given! God is merciful. God isn't JUST fair.
Let us pray: Loving God, you are gracious with a love that surpasses even fairness. Thank you for accepting the little ones as much as the great, those who turn to you at the last hour as well as the laborers who have toiled all their lives. Open us more to the free gifts of your grace, help us accept them with gratitude and appreciate how liberally you give to all. Turn our ways into your ways of love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.