"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." (Matthew 20: 10-12)
"It's not fair!" How many times as a kid did you cry out these words in response to a sibling receiving what you perceived as preferential treatment? I know that I tried it repeatedly with both my parents. You would think that I would have learned after my first attempt that absolutely no adult sympathy would come my way. Learning that whining to my parents over my big brother getting to sit in the front passenger's seat of the car 'all the time!', or over my little brother getting to mow the yard while I was stuck inside doing Saturday morning house cleaning, taught me how to parent my own kids better whenever they cried out "It's not fair!"
The gospel lesson for this Sunday worship could be subtitled, "It's not fair!", for in it Jesus tells a parable about day laborers, who at the end of the work day whine about receiving the same payment as those who had worked less number of hours. If I had been one of these day laborers who had toiled from sun-up to sun-down, I probably would have joined in the whiny chorus, myself!
Where does one find meaning in this text? Is Jesus telling us to buck-up and stop whining about life not being fair? Is he instructing us to keep our feelings inside, and to let them fester?
The opening of the parable gives us a hint to its meaning: "For the kingdom of heaven is like a. . ." Jesus is giving us a glimpse into how things work in God's kingdom (the kingdom of heaven). Rules that are opposite to the rules we live by on earth. Ridiculous rules, by human standards.
Thankfully, God lives by God's standards, not by human standards. Think about a time when you said something hurtful to another person, and that person forgave you for what you had said. It may have been easy for you to hurt the other person, but not so easy for that person to forgive you; they could have chosen to respond with cruel words, or to hold a grudge against you--easy responses by human standards. Instead, they took the kingdom way. God's way. Although kingdom of God/heaven rules are not easy to follow, they offer a reward to both the offender and the offended. This reward, in church lingo, is referred to as GRACE. Grace is God's gift to us, lavishly offered. And God offers grace as God sees fit.
I believe that if I had been one of the day laborer in this parable who only worked a fraction of the day and yet received a full day's wage, I may have felt a tiny twinge of guilt, but also thankful for the generosity of the landowner. My family would have benefited from a full day's wage with a full meal in their tummies, and I would have learned to be more generous in the future with others.
God's grace is always lavishly given. Enough so that there is more than enough to spread around. As Christians, we know that we receive God's grace, even when we don't deserve it. Just like the day laborer who cried, "It's not fair!"
In thanks for God's grace,
I love to laugh. I was raised that way by parents who relished the silliness in everyday life, and passed this way of not taking themselves or life too seriously, on to their three children. So my brothers and I grew up reading Mad magazines, listening to Spike Jones on the phonograph (as newly-weds living in San Diego in the early 1950’s, my parents enjoyed seeing Spike and his band perform live on stage), and watching Laurel and Hardy and Pink Panther movies on the television. To this day, whenever my family gathers, laughter fills the room.
What a wonderful discovery it was then, when early on in my seminary Old Testament class I learned from my instructor Dr. Lester (another relisher of the silliness in life) that the Hebrew Bible is chock-full of humor! For instance, in the third chapter of Judges, an evil king is killed by the sword while sitting on the ‘throne’ (the text refers to the toilet as the ‘cool roof chamber’), while in the twenty-second chapter of Numbers, God speaks through a donkey! Hee-haw!
Whoever said the Old Testament was dry and boring?
A subtler type of humor is going on in the Exodus text that I will be preaching from this Sunday. The Egyptian pharaoh, who is feeling his power threatened by the rapid increase in the population of the Hebew slave community, orders that all male Hebrew babies be killed (harumpf!), only to be duped by a couple of Hebrew women. Here is a summary of events:
May your days be filled with opportunities for laughter--especially during the pandemic, for laughter is truly good for the soul! And if you are in need a couple of belly laughs, take a look at the biblical texts I mentioned. After all, the Old Testament isn’t dry and boring, as most of us think, but full of humor. You just need to look for it.
With joy and delight,
It has been a good year for gardeners who love tomatoes. They just keep coming and coming. Even my own container-garden tomato plants have produced a lot of fruit. This has been a summer of experimentation for me in container gardening. Because we moved to Stewartville in June, it was too late to plant a garden. So instead, I grew plants on the back patio. What I learned about growing container tomatoes is that they need a lot more watering, and that extra needs to be taken in avoiding watering the leaves. In spite of my learning curve in container gardening, the tomatoes keep coming and coming.
Although I have been harvesting a lot of tomatoes from my container garden, there haven’t been enough tomatoes for me to make freezer pizza sauce. The daily pickings go right into that day’s cucumber/onion/tomato salad (thank you, Gib and Darlene for the cukes!) or regular-old green salads. Thankfully, I have been gifted a plethora of tomatoes from the gardens of a couple of generous SUMC folk (thank you, Dave M. and Gretchen O.!), which will become the base for my special freezer pizza sauce. Then, when the frigid winter Minnesota temperatures call for a supper of Eric’s delicious homemade pizza, this summer blessing will offer itself up as a winter blessing, sparking oohs and aahs to taste buds and stomach alike!
I never tire of the many ways God provides when there doesn’t seem to be enough of something in life. A garden of vegetable delights provided by generous church friends. A long, soaking late-August rain on parched lawns and fields. Reconnecting with a good clergy friend via Zoom after an emotional and spiritual drought caused by the pandemic. The cup of God’s abundant love and providence keeps overflowing with blessings.
It’s been a long, tiring two weeks for me, for the added responsibility of attending (online) three days of Conference events got my schedule out of whack. I guess the older I get, the more I am like a baby, in needing a regular schedule! Although I appreciate the opportunity to participate in Conference events, I’m looking forward to some big-time sabbath time this coming weekend: celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary with Eric (how can it be 37 years already?!) and spending an afternoon in Kenosha with Leif and Beyza and our two adorable granddaughters, Kysi and Clea.
May you too, delight in the cup of God’s abundant love and providence in your life!
I love the prophet Jeremiah. I love how open he is in sharing his feelings with God. In the two short sentences above, Jeremiah manages to ask God to be present and to punish his enemies, all while blaming God for putting him in this desperate situation! Reading the book of Jeremiah is almost like reading someone’s diary; you get to know the deepest parts of the person’s soul-- but here, it happens to be the soul of one who lived thousands of years ago.
So who was this Jeremiah dude, and why did he feel as if he could complain to God? Jeremiah, son of a priest, grew up in a village just north of Jerusalem. He lived and prophesied just before, during, and after the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of Babylon--about six centuries before the birth of Christ. Unlike other so-called prophets of the time, Jeremiah was a true prophet of God, in that he warned the people of Israel that if they did not repent of their ways (such as Baal worship, sexual immorality, and child sacrifice), God would smite them. Naturally, those in power tried to stop Jeremiah from prophesying doom and gloom by beating him, imprisoning him, and casting him into a cistern: “So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.” (38:6) Poor guy! Nothing though, could stop Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet. After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was forcibly exiled to Egypt, along with other residents of Jerusalem. He continued to preach to the exiled in Egypt, and most likely died there (Lundbom, Jack R. The Hebrew Prophets: An Introduction, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010) , p.88).
As in any healthy and loving relationship between two people that allows safe space for the sharing of life’s deepest hurts and highest joys, Jeremiah obviously held a high level of trust in his relationship with God. Reading such ‘diary entries’ of this ancient Hebrew prophet helps to remind me that there is nothing I need to keep from God. There have been times in my life in which I have defended my complaining to God in this way: “Well, if the Bible--which is sacred scripture-- contains words of complaint to God, and God always forgives the complainer, then I trust that God will still love me unconditionally, even when when I complain--and like Jeremiah-- blame God for my predicament.” If you have never lifted in prayer a complaint to God, try it sometime. It’s like taking a load off your shoulders. Although I believe that God knows our prayers even before we offer them, God delights in our need to share our deepest pain. Even when they are prayers of complaint!
May the God who loves you unconditionally, be listening for your prayers this week!