Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year A
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s Gospel text can be quite a shock for many people. After all, we humans expect fairness. We demand justice. We expect people to get what they deserve – we think we should be rewarded for doing what is right and punished for doing what is wrong. This is our human way to do things. It is human nature to think this way.
Let me put it this way… Who here has not heard from the lips of a child “That is just not fair!”? We all have. And if we lived in a black and white world, this would be correct. But we do not live in a black and white world.
For you see, even though God is a God of justice, God is not necessarily what we would consider fair. In the Bible justice and fairness do not always go together. Or put another way, fairness is not a Gospel category.
Take the Jonah story for example.
Jonah hates Nineveh. So, when God appoints Jonah to be the one to warn the Ninevites and to call them to repent Jonah heads off in the opposite direction. Jonah does not want the Ninevites to repent and be saved. Jonah wants the Ninevites to get what he thinks they deserve.
After all, in his mind that would only be fair because the Ninevites worshipped false idols and took part in a whole list of evil and sinful things. So, in Jonah’s mind the Ninevites deserved God’s punishment.
But Jonah also realized God may not see things the way he sees things. Verse 2 tells us what is on Jonah’s mind. It states: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”
Or to paraphrase, Jonah’s saying to God “I knew you were going to act like a big softy, and that you would give them another chance. And that is not fair! They are bad people. They are our enemies. And you, God, you should do what is right and punish them.”
But who is Jonah to tell God what to do? Instead of following God’s call, Jonah headed off in the opposite direction. He disobeyed God and so in his way of thinking he deserved to be punished. But God showed mercy and gave Jonah another chance. And the point being, God’s mercy is above our sense of justice. Even so, many people today shout God’s way is not fair!
Well, today our Gospel reading makes a similar point. In the parable, there is a landowner who, early in the morning, hires day laborers to go and work in his vineyard. And we are told that the owner agreed to pay the laborers the normal days wage for their work.
The problem is, the landowner hires additional laborers at different times of the day and pays all the workers the same amount, regardless of how long they worked.
And in the minds of the laborers who worked all day this is not fair. And so, they applied their own sense of equality and their own sense of fairness or justice to the situation. The problem is that this is not a parable about the laborers but about the Kingdom of God.
The text begins “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” in other words, in God’s Kingdom God can bestow His grace upon whoever He chooses. It is not up to us. Our sense of justice, our sense of fairness, our sense of what is right does not determine whom God decides to bless with His grace and His mercy.
Scripture is full of examples of this truth. Just look at the people God chose to be His messengers. Noah was a drunk. Moses was a murderer. David slept with married women. Rahab was a prostitute. Elijah was suicidal. Samson was a womanizer. Isaiah preached naked. I could go on and on.
Todays readings remind me of Isaiah 55 verses 8-9 which state…
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
for as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I love these verses because these two verses remind me that God’s ways, God’s thought’s, and God’s plans are much greater than our human way.
My friends, the Good News is this… entry into God’s Kingdom is not based upon our efforts, but on the generosity of God. Because God loves us, God sent His Son to live among us and to die for us, therefore no matter what sin we have committed (or no matter what sin we will commit in the future) we are/we can be reconciled to God and with each other through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The world asks “Is this fair?” And we respond no, but thanks be to God for He gives us the victory through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray: Eternal God, you redeemed humanity by sending your only Son in fulfillment of your promises of old. Let the truth and power of your salvation be known in all places of the earth, that all nations may give you praise, honor, and glory; through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.