“When We Question God’s Generosity” Matthew 20:1-16
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, September 20, 2020
By now, you’ve heard about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The news and social media have been full of stories and memories about her life as a Supreme Court Justice and her life before that. One thing in particular she is remembered for is all the work she has done with equal rights for women. But there’s still a lot more to be done, as seen in a report I saw yesterday showing the difference in pay between men and women at the White House, with women earning only .69 for every $1 men make.[i] Equal pay is important.
That’s a topic in the parable from Jesus that we’ve heard this morning. It’s one that comes right on the heels of one we heard last Sunday when Jesus responds to Peter’s question about forgiveness. It was about the unmerciful servant who was unwilling to forgive. In this parable, Jesus continues that theme and wants the disciples to know what the kingdom of heaven is like. So he tells them a story about a vineyard, about a day in the life of its owner and workers. The owner goes out in the morning looking for workers for the day, finds some, and then hires them with a promise of day’s wage at the end of the day. At other times during the day, he sees other people looking for work and hires them as well. Some were even hired at the end of the day. He pays them all the same wage, which leads the first workers to complain to the owner since they had been there all day while the others didn’t start working until later. The owner responds to them by telling them that he paid them per their agreement with him and that they should take what they had been given. He reminds them that he is the owner and that if he wants to pay the other workers the same amount then that’s up to him. He then chides them for being envious of his generosity. Jesus then gives a conclusion to the story, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
With this statement, Jesus reinforced what he just had said about God’s generosity with mercy when it comes to forgiveness—how God forgives them of their debts and how they are to do the same for each other. That’s how the kingdom of heaven works, on a whole different system than how the world operates. Just like God generously gave everyone the same amount of manna to Israelites wandering in the wilderness, so God generously gives equal amounts of grace to everyone. With that being God’s order of things, the disciples weren’t to grumble about who deserves it and who doesn’t. God’s equalizing grace was for all of them and who were they to grumble about it or to compete with one another to get it?
I remember when our kids were little and would sometimes get envious of what the other had. One day I was serving up a regular favorite for breakfast in our house—waffles with peanut butter. After spreading peanut butter on top of the waffles, I served one to Maggie Lee and one to Jack. Seconds later, great wailing began as Maggie Lee noticed that not all of her squares had peanut butter while Jack’s did. I was accused of cutting her short a few squares. I laughed (which didn’t help the situation) and later thought of how we are all that way at times—envious of what others have.
Surely we aren’t the kind of people who struggle with forgiveness, mercy, and each other, are we? I’m thinking we are. Like Peter, we struggle with having to forgive someone we don’t think deserves it. We question God’s ways in our world and how backwards they seem to be at times. We grumble and complain when we see other people who haven’t been living for God like we have get the same grace we got. We question God’s justice when God doesn’t smite someone we know has it coming. We can so easily become the kind of people who are forgiven an enormous debt and then end up showing no concern or sympathy for someone else who has owed far less. We often give in to the impulses of our society that shape us to compare ourselves with other people, to compete with each other when it comes to our standing with God, and to create systems of distinction that serve only to prop our own reality of worthiness and self-righteousness. So, this old story has a lot to do with us.
There’s a lot of application we can pull from this story, but one truth we can focus on this morning is that God is generous with us all, providing equal amounts of grace. We are to live in the fullness of that generosity, even if we think we don’t deserve it or that we are arriving too late to get it. As the landowner says to the grumbling first hires, “Take what belongs to you and go . . .” What if they had done just that instead of complaining about what other people received? What if we do that, just take from God’s generosity and go out into our day, work, and world experiencing and fully enjoying what God has given us? Doing so will feed our soul just like the manna in the wilderness fed the Israelites. We will find a true sense of contentment in our lives, one that will withstand the pressures we face from all of the messages in the world around us. And when we take what God has given us and go, we aren’t to take it for granted or complain about how we deserve more or something better. It is God’s provision for us out of God’s abundance of generosity. We take it and go to our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors with the realization that God has generosity for them as well, no longer being envious of what God has done for them but celebrating with them in what they have been given too.
As we begin this new week, may we take what belongs to us—God’s generosity—and go with it—deeper into our own hearts and extending to the people we encounter.