24 November 2011Matthew 20:1-16
"Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (v. 15)
In today's passage the unfairness of God's saving grace is
highlighted. The concept of 'fairness' in human terms is quite
removed from the word that we might tie with it when God speaks. A
just God is not one who is concerned with 'fairness' in our worldly
sense, but deals with us with more generosity than we could ever
even consider. This parable shows us two versions of ourselves; the
grumbling, hard working employee, who feels hard done by, not
because of their own treatment, but their perception that someone
else has been given better. The second version of ourselves in this
story is the employee who is essentially given something for
nothing, or at least, something that they don't deserve. This then,
is one of Jesus' very clear illustrations about God's grace - life
changing, and at odds with how the world works.
Again, like yesterday's reading, we hear that phrase, that "the last will be first, and the first will be last" (v. 16). And again, this surely would have angered those workers who have laboured all day, and it might anger us too, if we consider ourselves worthy of being first in the line. But there is the crux of the matter. None of us are worthy, and even if we laboured for 1,000 years, we couldn't make ourselves so. Given that this is the case, we might as well acknowledge that the queuing system, like the rewards scheme, is completely outside of our worldly standards, and so to apply 'normal' standards to it is as fruitless as can be.
In his sermon Salvation by Faith John Wesley calls this "favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies". All of those workers were undeserving, so to point out that one of your co-workers is getting an easy ride means nothing in terms of your own career. God's grace to us must be gracefully received, or else we only succeed in showing how little we have understood this most precious of gifts. When we hear the employer's words "take what belongs to you and go" (v. 14), this is surely a strong reminder of what a distance it is from God's grace to the parallel world where we could be if we were left outside of what God desires for us. What belongs to us is not worth knowing about; everything we have is through the grace of almighty God.
What does God's grace mean to you?
Who do you most associate with in this story? Why? Is that a place that you want to be? Again why?