September 24, 2017 - The Rev. Sarah Quinney
Are you jealous or envious because I am so generous?
Think about that. How can I be jealous or envious because someone is being so generous?
That shouldn’t upset me. Doesn’t seem like it makes sense. Doesn’t bring to mind at first many times I’ve felt this jealousy over someone’s generosity. But if you let it marinate for a minute, it will.
Perhaps there was a time when you were growing up and you were behaving really well that day and your brother or sister was not. And still at the end of dinner they too got dessert. And you were furious. It is not fair. Why does she or he get dessert too when I’ve been good and they’ve been bad. Or they didn’t do all their chores today or finish their homework and I did. Why do we get so upset, when we have a bowl of ice cream in front of us?
Maybe you applied for a scholarship, worked very hard on your essays, and another student who you don’t think gave as much effort got more money than you, and maybe a student didn’t even have to apply and got scholarships.
Maybe there are people in this country, given the benefits of living here who didn’t work as hard as you to get where you are and yet still get the help we all need.
In the kingdom of heaven, we all get what we need, regardless of what we do to get there and regardless of what we did before we got there. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
A friend of mine, David Henson, shared on Facebook his sermon for today. He is a great priest in the southeast but he is from our diocese and we went to the same seminary. Occasionally I share some things I find in his sermons or writings because he is amazing.
David helped put this parable into context. It follows the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he is to do in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says you must go sell all your possessions and then come and follow me. The man sadly walks away. WE actually don’t know if he sold them or not and if he ever came back.
The disciples question Jesus, and he says, Truly I tell you it is harder for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And they are perplexed saying, How then can any wealthy man ever enter the kingdom? And Peter boasts that unlike that man they (the disciples) have given up everything to follow him, so surely, they must be first in the kingdom. To which Jesus says, remember Peter, in the kingdom of heaven the first shall be last the last shall be first.
And then Jesus tells this parable to them. My friend David proposes we should call this parable the Parable of the Rich man who did enter the kingdom of heaven. And stop being so arrogant Peter.
It is usually called the Parable of the Laborers. I much prefer David’s title, The Parable of the Rich man who did enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now here is another wrinkle. It was a common teaching in Judaism that everyone regardless of time, effort and capability should be paid the same fair wage. It was a commonly held teaching that everyone deserved their daily bread.
Perhaps that teaching comes to them from the story of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness that we heard this morning. Much like the laborers in this story the Israelites are moaning and groaning complaining that they have nothing to eat and getting annoyed and frustrated with God for sending them out on this journey and it is taking way longer than it should. Sure, God parted the Red Sea for them and destroyed Pharaohs army. God’s been incredibly faithful to them, but their blood sugar is low and they are getting very grumpy acting as if none of that happened. But God still loves them. And God provides bread from heaven and satisfies their longings and their need.
As God has provided for the Israelites so should they teach their people to provide for those around them.
So, this concept of the business owner paying everyone the same is not the shock factor in the story.
The shocking and unusual part is that the landowner or business owner goes out all day, back and forth picking up more workers.
Not because he needs them, but because they need the job. Towards the end of the day, who are left? The elderly, the sick, the disabled, perhaps even some who did sleep in, or gambled away some money. Truly some people who probably couldn’t actually do the job.
But this wealthy man, knows the importance of dignity and worth and hires them all for their sake and for the sake of God and not for his own sake.
He gives out of his wealth, disproportionate to what his accountant would advise him to do. He does so because every time he went back, there were still people without work and therefore without their daily bread.
David says, “the landowner isn’t hiring based on his own business needs. He’s hiring based on the needs of the people in his community.
That’s what makes him remarkable, what makes him like God. He compulsively, relentlessly, and excessively seeks out those in need of work in his community, folks who are in danger of going without daily bread, and he welcomes them all. He takes his wealth so seriously he goes out again and again and again to hire whoever shows up, whoever is going to go hungry without him, hoping to find one more person with whom to share the gifts God has given him because he has discovered the joy not just of giving, not just of charity, but of building a beloved community in which none are left behind, none go hungry, none go without a home, where we don’t settle for what is fair but insist on what is right.
And to God, what is right is always mercy and grace and daily bread. It is the core of Jesus’ own prayer in the gospels. Give us today our daily bread. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We practice this exact thing every single Sunday at this table, where all are welcome, and even the person you may think doesn’t deserve to be here gets what they need just like we all do, a holy meal of bread, wine, and mercy.
We do this not to be first or greater or even better, but that we might be transformed into the kind of people like the wealthy landowner who go and seek others with whom to share with relentless abandon the gift of daily bread that we have been given by God so freely and at such great cost.”