University Congregational Church
June 12, 2016
“They (We) Just Don’t Get It”
Read Matt. 20:1-16 – choral reading (plain- narrator; yellow- manager; purple- workers)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into 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.”
Have you ever heard this old adage: “God helps those who help themselves”? Do you believe it? A recent poll reports that 82% of Americans believe that saying comes from the Bible. Not unless it comes from the book Hezekiah! (Look it up!)
In fact, the Bible says just the opposite – that God especially helps those who cannot help themselves. The saying “God helps those who help themselves” began in ancient Greece, but Benjamin Franklin popularized it for Americans in his Poor Richard’s Almanack. It is a well-known saying in Europe, too. Adolph Hitler used it in speeches to rev up the Nazi war machine. He extolled this philosophy as “both pious and just”.
If you think about it, it’s really quite a nasty little saying. It is:
• anti-incarnational, denying that we live and move and have our being in God,
• it rejects Jesus’ teachings to trust God completely,
• it maintains that you can’t expect God to just bless you with gifts, that we must deserve what we get from God.
I think this saying is popular because it rationalizes our mistrust of God and our subsequent desire to master our own destinies. The problem is that they just don’t get it. The Bible is just too good to be true: people who work should receive pay for a whole day. People who work half a day, should get ½ or less the pay of a full time worker. But to be paid the same? Humph. It’s insulting to think about.
We want life to be fair –
we want good people to live long, healthy lives
we want hard work and dedication to guarantee long, rewarding employment
we want equal pay for equal work
we want justice and liberty for all.
We are capitalists, for heaven’s sake!
This parable is difficult. Many of us here this morning wonder what is wrong with the full-time, day-long, hard working people asking why they were paid the same as those who worked only a fraction of the time. They are only asking for equity. As my minister’s group was discussing this parable, when we share ideas about sermon preparation, one minister said, “Jesus was too good at storytelling. We get rapped up in his stories and we identify with the people in the story. And then comes the punch line and we find out that we haven’t changed that much in 2000 years.”
This parable is about God’s unlimited generosity; it’s about grace; it’s about God’s lavishness. And Jesus’ point is clearly stated when the landowner says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” Blessings and grace and mercy are God’s to distribute and who among us should complain because God chooses to be lavish? But they just didn’t get it.
The daylong workers did nothing wrong – they were hired for a job, they did the job satisfactorily and they were paid fairly. But when they realize that others received the same amount for less work and they begin to whine. What these murmuring laborers desire is not to have much, but to have more than others. They had agreed to work for a denarii a day – that was fine with them in the morning. But when others had the same amount, these laborers wanted more. The parable is not about money or about work. Its message is about an attitude – a wrong spirit of mind. How can one who receives God’s blessings hold a grudge in his heart about the blessings given to others?*
Still, we wonder. We just don’t get it. Because of our view on economics, we see finite resources. There is a limited amount of money to go around – it must be distributed fairly, equitably. Money doesn’t grow on trees, after all. We can’t just give and give until the money is gone – then everyone will suffer.
I hear these rumblings around town… and the voices are strangely familiar to the ones in the parable – begrudging and unloving about what others get. You’ve heard the voices, most notably in the newspaper’s opinion line and in the grocery checkout, but also in our own voices and even in our own homes.
• “These youth sports teams think they have to give everyone a medal for playing. What’s wrong with acknowledging the winners and losers? We are creating a generation of whiners.”
• “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for public education of illegal immigrant children.”
• “Those machinists ought to be grateful they have a job and quit belly-aching about benefits no other worker gets.”
• “All these people on welfare who have an entitlement mindset. We can’t afford to support them. They need to go back to work.”
You see, somewhere along the line we convinced ourselves that every matter in life ought to be fair and equitable. And then we decided that since there are limited resources we are in competition with others to get our fair share. We just don’t get it.
Jesus’ parable teaches a different model:
In the Kin-dom of God, this is not how believers should act.
In the Kin-dom of God, there is no limit on grace.
In the Kin-dom of God, there is no reason to worry about having enough or getting ahead.
In the Kin-dom of God, those who worked are valued the same as those who spent their day looking for work.
In the Kin-dom of God, everyone goes home at the end of the day with enough to feed and clothe themselves and their children.
In the Kin-dom of God, people focus on the joy of being blessed instead of how much blessing each received.
In the Kin-dom of God, we don’t have to rely on our own qualifications, skin color, economic worth, test scores, abilities or who we know – all are treated with warmth and love.
The parable as Jesus told it is foolish. It’s downright ridiculous. God just gives and gives and gives some more without seeming to be concerned about the cost? The Good News is just too good to be true, and it demands nothing less than everything.
Not only does this parable smack us in the face with what we receive. It also shows us how to give. Is it possible that we are supposed to live our lives in the same manner – lavishly and generously spreading money around? As Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly says, “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”
Friends, we are coming into the summer months. Our church truly needs your support. Many have been generous in the past. All of us are needed today. Your participation, your attendance, your financial gifts, your positive stories about UCC, and your invitations to friends to attend with you, are vital to our future. Take some of the joy we find together out and spread it around! Write a lavish check and give it! Be gracious and generous in your spirit as you talk with people. Welcome and care for those you don’t know.
The truth is none of us can rely fully upon ourselves alone; we need God’s incredible generosity. And if God were so incredibly lavish, why would we complain?