The Scripture text was Matthew 20:1-16
Things have changed a lot since Jesus told this story. I mean, there are the obvious things, like cars and phones and the internet, but there are more subtle things too.
The biggest one is that most of the people who followed Jesus back then were the ones on the wrong side of the tracks. He spoke to the poor, the frustrated, the beaten down.
Today, those people still follow Jesus, but most people who claim to be Christian in this country are pretty comfortable. I mean, all you have to do is look at the big steeples and the elegant stained glass of most churches to know that not many of the people who gather there are poor.
The message originally spoken to the poor has been taken by the rich – and as a result, it is easy to miss what Jesus was trying to say. The scripture today is one of those stories – it means something a bit different, depending on who you identify with, with the assumptions you bring to the table.
As an educated white guy, it is pretty easy to identify with the land owner. I like to think I am kind, like the landowner in this story. And in the way we usually understand this story, the landowner represents God, and we all like to think of God as basically like us, only nicer.
But the story reads pretty different if you are reading it from the perspective of the first Jesus followers – people who were poor, people who were struggling to get by, people who worked day labor.
Yeah , that’s right– this is the story of the labor pool. This is a story about people who sit and wait for rich men to come and hire them, to do back breaking work at a rate that will barely pay their bills.
And so the farmer goes to the labor pool four times – first thing in the morning, at lunch, at three and again an hour before quitting time.
But when it came time to settle up, he paid them in reverse order – he paid the ones who worked one hour, and then the ones who worked three hours, and so on. But, and here is the kicker – he paid them all the same.
The people who had been there since early that morning, who signed in at the desk, who sat in the diert room, who waited for their name to be called and who went out at 6 that morning – they got paid the same thing that the ones who had only been out there an hour did.
And the people who went out early – they were hot about it.
Even though they did not suffer at all. They got paid exactly what they were supposed to get paid. And yet they were mad.
The people who worked all day got what they deserved. The people who worked one hour, yet got a whole day’s pay, they got grace.
Last week, we talked about how there are two ways to view the world – the way of grace, or the way of power. Jesus invites us to live in a world of Grace, and here we see another example of what that looks like. The Farmer extends grace – rather than give people what they deserve, he gives them what they need.
The folks who worked all day – they have a chance to be graceful – I mean, they worked all day for the pay that they had agreed to, and the farmer’s generosity cost them nothing. But instead, they felt cheated. They appealed to power instead of embracing grace.
Yes, when we read this story, it does tell us that god is gracious. But it also tells us that we have a choice to decide which world we want to live in. And to follow Jesus means to choose grace.
In the name of the Father, and The son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.