Year A Proper Matthew 20 2011
It Isn't Fair
The disciples had been watching the dynamics of this happening and they were quite disturbed. Jewish tradition had always taught that God had especially blessed rich men and that is why he was rich. In their way of thinking, if a wealthy man could not receive salvation, then how could a poor man have any hope? They asked of Jesus: who then can be saved?
It reminds me of the movie Fiddler on the Roof. The poor Jewish milkman who lives in early 1900 Russia sings what he would do "if I were a rich man." His wife reminds him: money is a curse. He immediately shouts up to heaven: curse me God, curse me. Jesus has just turned away a wealthy man, and in the Jewish way of thinking it doesn't make any sense. In fact, I am not sure how many Methodist preachers would have the courage to do it. My entire ministry I have been waiting for a sugar daddy to come along.
But it was Simon Peter who drew the question even more clearly into focus for us. He asked what is on the mind of every one of us, only we are too sophisticated to ask it and too self-righteous to admit that we even think it. Peter didn't have any problem with that. He simply laid his cards out on the table. He said, "Lord, we have given up everything, riches and all, to follow you." What then shall we have?" In others words, what's in this for us Lord. How do we stand to profit? Where's the payoff?
In response to Peter's question, Jesus told a story. It was the harvest time of the year. At 7 A. M. a wealthy landowner went to the Town Square to hire laborers. In this story of hiring workers we learn:
- The person who comes late is just as important as the one who comes early.
- We really do not comprehend the nature of God's unmerited grace.
- If there is any special payoff for being selected early to labor in the Lord's field, it is simply the inner satisfaction that we receive from being in God's employ.
Is God Fair?
An old "Family Circus" comic strip shows the two boys Jeff and Billy squabbling over the size of the slices of pie their mom has placed before them. "They aren't the same," Jeff pouts. Mom tries again, evening-up the slices. Still Jeff is upset. "They still aren't the same!" he whines. This time Mom uses a ruler and absolutely proves that both slices of pie are the exact same size. "But Mom," Jeff complains, "I want mine to be just like Billy's . . . only bigger!"
Did you get an allowance as a child, that weekly "reward" for doing the chores that were your responsibility? If so, you probably had your allowance and the amount of work you did to "earn" that allowance go up as your age did. Right?
If a five year old gets a dollar for picking up their toys and clothes;
If an eight year old gets five dollars for feeding the dog, emptying the garbage, and vacuuming the living room;
Then a twelve year old should get considerably more for mowing the lawn, doing some laundry, watching younger siblings, and cleaning the garage.
Chores and allowances teach children that in this world's economy we have to do work in order to receive our "rewards." We want our kids to learn and to live the adage, "Hard work pays off."
That is why the parable in today's gospel text is so unsettling. It is easy to identify with the grumbling guys who worked sunup to sundown, through the heat of the day, and then watched in amazement as some slackers who worked for one measly hour, in the cool of the approaching evening no less, got paid a full day's wage. Of course the full day worker EXPECTS more. Of course the full day worker SHOULD get more. It is only fair. More work should equal more wages. "Hard work pays off."
But it doesn't. Not in Jesus' story of the kingdom...