Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 22, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Sermon: "God's Way of Fairness"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
God's Way of Fairness
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 22, 2002
A wealthy man decides to help the poorer people he saw in his neighborhood. He wanted to give them jobs. His hope was to give them a sense of self-worth, respect, and dignity along with money for their work. In the area near his business there was a convenience store. Men without jobs gathered at the store in the mornings hoping to get a lead on at least a day's work. The wealthy man knew he could find workers there. So, at 7:30 in the morning, he drove to the store. He offered the men who had gathered a job for the day, and he sent them to the factory. An hour later, he went back where he found another group of men and he sent them to work as well. At noon he went back and found a third group of men sitting at the store and he sent them to the factory as well. Finally, two hours before the end of the day he was returning from a meeting. He saw another small group of men standing at the store. He pulled in and asked them if they needed work.. They said yes and he sent them to the factory. At the end of the day, he gathered all of the men together and began to pay them their wages. Being a generous man he paid everyone for a full day's work. Well, before he could finish paying the last of the workers a foreman came up to him. The foreman said, "Sir, I have to protest how you are paying these workers. The union requires that all workers get paid according to the union standard. You can't pay the later workers that well without paying the other workers more." Behind the foreman was a member of the ACLU. Before the workers were paid they wanted to insure everything was in line with the fair Labor Standards Act. Next in line was the insurance representative for the company. He wanted to know if each worker had filled out the proper paperwork and been fully briefed on the company's insurance qualifications. Behind the insurance representative was a member of the IRS. Had each man filled out a W-2 form for tax purposes? Then, there was a member of the US Naturalization Service. Did the owner verify that each man working for him that day have a green card? Finally, there were the last of the workers. They were very upset that they received the same amount of pay that the guys who worked two hours received.
I guess we can say we have not moved far from this parable in Mathew told over two thousand years ago. In fact, sometimes we are in worse shape than the parable. More organizations and people require reports even for acts of kindness. This wealthy man just wanted to ease some suffering and he catches grief from everybody.
What is the underlying issue for us? The issue seems to be our concept of fairness and equality. We want everybody treated the same. We want equal pay for equal hours of work. We want equal opportunities for jobs. We want everybody to be treated fairly. Unless it means we might get a little more for ourselves. See the people in the story and the parable who worked the longest thought they should get more from the wealthy men. We worked longer. We worked harder they say. We deserve more money. After all it is only fair. Give us more money and we will be happy. Fairness will have ruled the day, and all will be right in the world. We don't care about your generosity to those others. We want you to be fair to us.
Well, what happens when we start down that road with God? What would have happened if God had been just and fair with Adam and Eve after they had disobeyed God in the garden? If God had been absolutely fair we might not even be here. God might have started over with something else. How about Moses and the people of Israel? God chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. He was to be the prophet to speak to pharaoh for God. Before Moses saw the burning bush, before he ever came to the land of Jethro, he had killed an Egyptian for beating a slave. How would things be different if God treated Moses with justice and fairness as a murderer?
One final example, Jesus and the cross. We killed the Son of the living God. We mocked him. We ridiculed him. We beat him and stripped him. We took three nails and drove them into his feet and hands. Just to be sure he was dead we thrust a spear into his side. Throughout this entire ordeal, we taunted him and denied him. Suppose God treated us with justice and fairness at the moment of Jesus' death. What would God's justice and fairness be like? How would we feel if it was our son or daughter on that cross?
The ways of justice and fairness in the world are not like the way of justice and fairness of God. As we have already learned our ways of fairness and justice can be constraining and in some cases severe. Thankfully, God's ways are not like ours. God's way is one of mercy and forgiveness. When Adam and Eve screwed up in the garden, God sent them out of the garden and gave them clothes. When Moses killed the Egyptian and ran away, God used him to free thousands of people. In both cases God acknowledged their shortcomings, forgave them and then accomplished good through their future actions. When the disciples ran away when Jesus was killed, God forgave them. Look at the results of God's forgiveness.
The most incredible aspect of this story is that God forgives us too. Every time we sin we can be and are forgiven. Beyond that sin, beyond that event, through forgiveness God works with and through us. Like a potter molding clay, God shapes us and molds us. We can carry the message of forgiveness and love to all. We can especially carry this message to those who need to hear it the most. We can carry this message to those who are hurting, to those in prison, and to those who either have not heard or have lost the belief that God loves them too. I guess what I am suggesting is that we put aside the ways of fairness in this world, and be thankful for God's way. Out of thanksgiving for God's way, we offer to others what God has given us: forgiveness, mercy and compassion. We offer the love of God.
Let us pray
God you make the sun to shine on all people, the wealthy, the poor, the good, the bad, the well and the sick. We ask you Lord, to open our hearts and minds to your way of forgiveness and compassion for our brothers and sisters. Help us to break down the barriers that separate us. Through the love of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, open our eyes to see everyone as a beloved child of God. In your holy name we pray.