Narrative Lectionary Reflection for March 1, 2015 (Year 1) Matthew 20:1-16
After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Matthew 20:2
Most people are pretty keen on receiving their fair share of just about everything. Even so, most of us are capable of generosity and of seeing others receive blessings and abundance–as long as their portion isn’t more than what we perceive our fair share to be. It’s the way we humans behave. Call it survival of the fittest, competitive nature, individuality, or whatever you will; however, perhaps it is better to call it what it is–our sinful nature.
When human nature and the Son of Man collide, the sparks are sure to fly. In this week’s parable the controversy served up is one of fairness and generosity, with a generous side order of stewardship. The focus of the controversy is a “usual daily wage” and a fair application of that compensation. Are the workers who put in an entire day’s work more entitled to the usual day’s wage than those workers brought on board halfway through the day or the ones added at the last hour? From most folks’ perspective that’s a no-brainer. It’s a matter of working and earning, right? A right? An entitlement? A matter of principle even?
Thankfully not, at least not where Jesus is concerned, not in God’s economy. Our worldly economy is based on scarcity and the principle of finite resources. If there’s only so much to be had, then one had better secure her share and then some. He who dies with the most toys wins (except he’s still dead). Turn on the nightly news or read the newspaper and see how this perspective plays out as fewer folks amass more, and more folks make do with less and suffer more.
Contrast this world view with Jesus’ story of prodigal generosity and abundance. There is a place for everyone, work for all to do, and a usual daily wage. The expectation is of generous provision; there is plenty for all. In God’s reign, there is work to be done whether you come early or late, whether you’ve been ln the “inside” all your life or are a newcomer in the vineyard. The divine vineyard owner wants to bring everyone inside and share the abundance
What does this story have to say to the church and to individual disciples today? For one thing it speaks strongly to radical hospitality and welcome. The vineyard owner welcomes workers throughout the day. There don’t seem to be any complaints from the other workers initially. It is only when the time comes for compensation that the grumbling begins. How do we see similar grumbling happening when new disciples are incorporated into our worshiping communities? Does it start when new folks take leadership roles or start to change things that make us uncomfortable? Don’t these new disciples have just as much right and responsibility to help make mission and ministry happen?
Perhaps as individuals we can be sort of stingy with God’s grace–not to mention sharing our own resources. Do we really trust God so little that we fail to believe the divine promise of plenty? Can we really claim to be followers of Christ and watch our neighbors languish in need when God desires all creation to flourish?
The answers to these questions are at once starkly simple and conspicuously complex. We who have much must wrestle with these questions faithfully and respond in like manner. There is enough for all; in fact there is abundance. Let’s make sure we act like it, work for it, and share it in the name of Christ.
With the Beloved Community
Lift up these questions for discussion and discernment.
1. Where have you seen signs this week of God’s prodigal abundance and generosity?
2. Where have you been saddened to see signs of human stinginess and selfishness?
3. What can you do this week to be Jesus’ grace-filled hands, generous hearts, and loving presence in this world?
(Photos: Chris Potter, Luz, and York Minster, Creative Commons. Thanks!)