Red Letter Year: 5/8

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13 He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ 16 So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

Comments

This parable is a wonderful explanation of the limitless grace of God. Each of us receives the full measure of God’s grace without respect to the amount of work we have done. But I think there is more to see here than that. I think this builds on the encounter from yesterday’s reading. The owner of this vineyard is gracious with his wealth in a way the young man was unwilling to be. Both these stories bother us because both entail Jesus advocating ways of living and conducting business that are incompatible with our wealth-driven culture. That culture cannot condone this man’s wage policy. If he wanted to be generous once in a great while that might be okay, but he could not pay workers like this on a regular basis without soon coming to ruin.

Our culture has a “normal daily wage” for work like this. We call it the minimum wage and workers at this level are paid for the exact number of minutes they actually work, not a minute more. In fact, it has become common practice to monitor business volume very closely and send these workers home early whenever possible, working them less than the agreed upon hours and thus paying them as little as possible. We call this just-in-time scheduling, a vile practice that takes the maximum advantage of low-wage workers and leaves them unable to plan other activities (such as education or caring for their children) or plan a budget. What we do is as near the opposite of Jesus’ parable of the kingdom as can be imagined. 

And yet, it has become increasingly popular to approach church governance based on management principles borrowed from businesses who engage in these anti-kingdom practices. What do you suppose happens when we run the church according to such values? The result might look “successful” if we are measuring by standards also borrowed from such businesses, but how can the end be anything but failure with regard to actually advancing the kingdom?

What if, instead, we tried to order our churches – and all aspects of our lives – according to the values and practices of this vineyard owner? What if we offered fair wages for fair work and also gave wealth away? What if we ordered our lives together based on giving everything away?

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 5/7

Matthew 19:16-30

16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

17 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keepthe commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” the man asked.

And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”

21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

27 Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”

28 Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

Comments

If you have been following our read through the Gospels, you will probably have noticed that I like the art of Vincent van Gogh (almost as much as my daughter does). To love van Gogh’s art is to love the man himself, his art and person were so intertwined (as it is with all great artists). One  of the things I find most endearing was Vincent’s way of doing all things to the fullest. When he served as a pastor to a poor mining town, he spent his time down in the mines and in the small peasant homes of his flock. Devoted to his brother Theo and to his friends, Vincent’s love knew no partiality. You can see this in his paintings, which are so three dimensional, the paint applied so thickly, they are as much sculptures – works of texture – as they are paint on canvas. This is perhaps most true of his Sunflowers, which he painted for his friend (and fellow painter) Paul Gauguin to celebrate his coming to live with Vincent. Vincent used a considerable amount of yellow paint, so much that Gauguin was astonished by it. Those paintings hung in Gauguin’s room, and though he only stayed for nine weeks, the memory of them remained with him years afterward. 

This, I think, is the difference between what the man had been doing and what Jesus offers him. He had been keeping the basic commandments, not murdering, stealing, committing adultery or perjury. Those are good commandments to keep, just like using a little bit of paint to create a basic image is good. Both are nice. But Jesus offers him (and us) the opportunity to make something that is much more than nice, to create something that will change lives forever, to leave an impact far beyond our brief years. Vincent van Gogh didn’t just paint pictures, he poured his entire life, all his love, all his being, all he had, into works of art that still move us today. They move us to love, to think, to feel, to drink life deeply. This is what Jesus offer us. The chance to make of our lives what van Gogh made of his art. We can play nice with the basics, or we can give everything we have, all we are, all our hopes, all our dreams, all our love, all our existence into following Jesus. The impact we will have is beyond anything we could ever have to sell or give up. The joy we will experience is so far beyond any other pleasure this life could possibly offer.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.