Thought for the Week 27 - 20th September by Mark Ellis

(27)   20th September                   Matthew 20:1-16                The workers in the Vineyard

Well how’s your first week of the new ‘Rule of Six’ been? I’ll admit we had a dilemma on Monday evening when a seventh person turned up unexpectedly to our group of six in the garden as we said pre-planned bon voyage to a nephew taking a new job north of the border.  Do we practice hospitality, or send him away?  God had a ‘Rule of Six’ far earlier than the Prime Minister, even before time itself.  Got it yet? Genesis 2:2-3 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”  So let us rest today and find the time to worship our Creator.

The two readings set for today are Psalm 145 and Matthew 20:1-16.  We’ll turn to looking into the Matthew reading later. 

But first, before we can hope to fully hear God’s voice, let us ask for forgiveness from God.

Let us pray:

Lord God, we have sinned against you; we have done evil in your sight. We are sorry and repent. Have mercy on us according to your love. Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin.  Renew a right spirit within us and restore us to the joy of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now let’s spend a minute reading Psalm 145 together:

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty –
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
They tell of the power of your awesome works –
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

This is the Word of the Lord: Thanks be to God

Hymn: Seek Ye First

Seek ye first the kingdom of God,

 and His righteousness,

 and all these things shall be added unto you. 

Allelu, Alleluia

 

Man shall not live by bread alone,

but by every word

that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Allelu, Alleluia

 

Ask and it shall be given unto you,

seek and ye shall find,

knock and the door shall be opened up to you

Allelu, Alleluia

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Matthew 20: 1-16, take the time to read it well and then we’ll take some more time to think about this parable.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard

20 ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.‘About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the market-place doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.

‘He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”

‘“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.

‘He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”

‘When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”

‘The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”

13 ‘But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

16 ‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

This is the Word of the Lord: Thanks be to God

Amazing Grace!

The action happens at the wages office as the workers line up.  Most of us have waited to be paid, perhaps a little less now then we used to, with bank transfers and everything, but never the less perhaps after seasonal or vocational work – fruit picking perhaps, now that’s taking me back to my teens! But where pay might a little less clear than it could be.  Or perhaps as children, we’ve done little jobs for friends and family and have made our own calculation as to what we think the work was worth, based upon previous experience of course.

In the parable, those who had worked for only the last hour or two of the day (when perhaps the heat was off) were called first to the pay checkout.  They expected to receive a proportion of the usual wage and were therefore surprised to receive a full day’s wage instead.  We know only that those who had worked a full day from early morning, facing the ever rising heat and physical exertion received the usual pay that had been agreed beforehand.  We’re not told what those others in the middle groups were paid, but it doesn’t matter, we need to think about those outlying groups’ wages.  Those who worked the full day received justice, as they were promised.  But the workers who were enlisted at the end of the day, received not justice but generosity.  Equal pay for unequal work hardly seemed fair to those who had worked hard in that heat.  Was there perhaps a more acceptable outcome that could have happened? What could the landowner have done differently? What other choices could he have made?

The most obvious thing would indeed to have paid an hourly wage perhaps, or one according to output (I remember having my pails of blackcurrants weighed!).  That at least was what the day workers had expected and agreed with their employer.  That would have been fair and seen to be fair to all parties, including those who were those last recruits to the master’s fields.  It would have been fair and been seen as acceptable to both parties and avoided resentment that groups were being treated unequally.

Perhaps, the landowner, having decided to pay the full daily rate to those who had worked only for the last few hours of the day, might instead have given a proportionate increase to all the workers, even to those who worked for the full day. A ‘corporate bonus’ as we in Cefas call it, not a wage as such but a one-off ‘well done’ payment!  That would have seemed generous as well as fair to all, since all the workers would be rewarded for the amount of work they had all done for the master and treated generously as well.  Those who had worked only for a few hours would have felt compensated for the shame and indignity they had suffered waiting for that work.  Reward would still be linked to effort and achievement, but it would also show unexpected generosity to all the workers, not only to the few.

With two options to act fairly and generously, while avoiding any grounds for complaint or resentment, why then did the landowner act in the way he did and trigger such resentment?  He was, of course THE landowner, and he was in a parable, mirroring the kingdom of heaven and was not contributing to the theory and practice of industrial relations.  But what was he mirroring about the kingdom that could have only been demonstrated in these terms?

GOD PLAYS BY DIFFERENT RULES. ‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?’  His sovereign freedom will not be trapped into fixed, impersonal, predetermined rules that reward the ‘haves’, the achievers, or the virtuous.  Instead, God gifts the ‘have-nots’ and to those who have no claim to make on others.  His undeserved generosity is destined for ALL people, but it can only be embraced by those who renounce all claims to rewards on their own account, work, achievements and goodness. But, then, does effort, duty, service, or virtue account for nothing?  It counts as evidence of our relationship with God, but not as the basis of a claim to God.  Every instinct for self-perseveration protests against the upside-down world of GRACE, where non-achievers are blessed, first-comers come last, the poor a filled and the riach are left empty-handed.

To experience GRACE, we have to recognise that we are all, without a single exception, latecomers to God’s kingdom.  The difference between any of us is as inconsequential as whether, when we’ve missed the train or bus, or hit a bridger for a crucial meeting, we missed it by ten seconds or by a whole hour.  Do you love the nine-year old grand child three times as much as the three year-old grand chile because he’s been around to help you and hug you three times as long?  Of course not.  The labourers who were late to work received generosity because they were still called.  It was the employer, not the workers, who determined the generosity of their reception.  And there is no other basis on which our relationship with and to God and with and to friends can be established.

Hymn: Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch; like me!

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
  And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
  The hour I first believed!

The Lord hath promised good to me,

His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
  Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
  Than when we first begun.

 

The Collect for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity:

 

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your live: grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Prayer for Healing:

Loving God, Source of all healing and comfort, fill us with your grace that the sick may be made whole, that those who care for us may be strengthened, that the anxious may be calmed, and those most vulnerable may be protected. In the power of the Spirit and in the faith of Jesus Christ our LordAmen.

A Prayer for our Parishes:

Lord God, help us all to use this time of change within your churches to re-examine our faith in you, our service to you and our worship of you. Be with the congregations of St Peter’s Carlton Colville and St Andrew’s Mutford as they look forward to the arrival of Rev Sarah and Mike at the end of November. We pray also for the congregations at St Benedict’s and St Peter’s in Gunton, St Bartholomew’s Corton and St Margaret’s Hopton as they go forward together as a new enlarged benefice.  Bless each officer and Minister that supports them during this time of vacancy and bless them with a Minister that will take this benefice further in its life in due course.  In the name of Jesus, our Christ.  Amen.

Let us join together in the Lord’s Prayer, in whatever version or language is best for you today.

Hymn: He is Lord!

He is Lord, He is Lord,

He is risen from the dead

and He is Lord!

Every knee shall bow,

every tongue confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord.

May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you and may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always.  Amen

Let Us Bless the God: Thanks be to God.


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