Sunday, 22 February 2015

Generous to a fault

Matthew 20:1-16
The Laborers in the Vineyard
​“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.”

I recently listened to a radio programme highlighting the issues that had arisen in some residential areas in the UK that had become gathering places for those seeking casual daily labour. Some of the residents spoke of their resentment and their concerns for their safety as their communities were overtaken by folk seeking work.
Today’s gospel is another parable that is still played out in our communities today. In villages and towns, in market squares and hardware stores, there are gatherings of people, congregating in the hope of finding work. Many who live in those communities or who frequent the places they gather, complain about the inconvenience and the disturbance that they perceive is brought into their lives by the existence of people desperate to earn a living – or at least enough on which to live for another day. And many of the people who are forced to gather in such ways are immigrants, already disadvantaged by their status, some of whom have already had to flee injustice and oppression, only to be met with prejudice and resentment. 
There is something very chilling about the fact that a story told so long ago speaks into life today incisively confronting us with our failure to change and our unwillingness to make things different.
We have an inflated sense of entitlement that excludes others.
We find it difficult to make room for those who are new or who want to be included in our town or village centres and in our congregations.
How dare someone who has only been around a few weeks, months or years, dare to step up and share their skills when we, who have grown up in this place, be it church or community, have struggled for years to get by?
Our sense of entitlement blinds us to the gifts and diversity that others bring and narrows the opportunities for service that we might extend to others.
We'd rather struggle on with bad grace than make way for others whose gifts would make life so much easier.
We'd rather hoard and protect all that is ours than share from our abundance.
We resent the Johnny come latelys, the incomers, the folk who want to belong, seeing their existence as an invasion of what is exclusively ours, and intrusion that somehow diminishes us.
We complain that they are usurping our place, when really, it was a place that we didn't particularly value anyway.
We complain that they are taking our jobs when really, those were tasks that we didn't much relish.
Not only do we struggle to accommodate others, we resent those who do.
We find their generosity uncomfortable.
It assaults our sense of propriety and justice.
Where is the good news in today's gospel passage?
Perhaps it is in the learning that we need to " get over ourselves" and let God be God.
In the discovery that we need to move out of the way and allow God's sense of justice and generosity get to work.
Congregations are sometimes filled with those who grumble at God's outrageous grace even when they are recipients and beneficiaries of those same extravagant gifts.
We are called to mirror God by making space, by sharing all that we have been freely given and by embracing those who seek community.
We are called to bestow dignity and status, finding a place for the gifts of others, honouring the richness of diversity. 
We are called to allow our sense of entitlement to extend to others to whom God is every bit as gracious.

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