Psalm 145:1-8, Jonah 3: 10-4:11, Philippians 1: 21-end, Matthew 20: 1-16
From school age right up to adulthood we have all done it; at one time or another we have all felt aggrieved, even on occasions slightly hurt, at what we perceive to be an injustice. When someone else gets more than we do, or we even get left out altogether. That History Prize that Jones received instead of you, or the promotion Smith was given, even though you were far more hard working and able.
As we grow up, we learn to smile sweetly and pretend, at least outwardly that it really doesn’t matter, ‘good luck, well done’, while we silently boil inside. Most of us to a point, can feel for those workers who toiled all day, in the parable Jesus told, while others were paid a day’s rate for an hour’s work. In truth if it had been us wouldn’t we have felt a little hard done by?
Then we had part of that great book from the Old Testament, the Book of Jonah. If there was anyone in the Bible, apart from Job, who felt hard done by then it is probably Jonah. Why does God waste his time getting Jonah to tell the evil people of Nineveh what their fate would be when God intended to forgive them all the time. No wonder Jonah was angry and in a massive sulk with God.
Jane Williams writes in her Lectionary reflections on today’s readings:
“It is easy to see Jonah and the all-day workers as rather comic caricatures, responding as surely we never would to God’s generosity to others. Which is why you have to take seriously not just their selfishness but also their concern about justice. Is Jonah not right to think that God will cheapen forgiveness, and will end up encouraging wrong-doing, because people can point out that God doesn’t really seem to mind it much? Are the workers not right to suspect that the vineyard owner will have increasing trouble getting people to work for him all day, if they know they can turn up at the last moment and get a day’s pay?” Jane Williams goes on to quote the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks in his book The Dignity of Difference, where he ‘“speaks, among other things, about what might happen if you dare to let go of the language of justice and rights, and speak instead in the language of ‘covenant’ and forgiveness. If God can bear to filter justice through the lens of mercy, who are we to forget how much we have been forgiven, and demand harsh ‘justice’ for others?”’
Now, I know, it is indeed easy at times to forget our own many blessings and look with unjustifiable envy at others, or indeed fail to take proper concern for those who struggle in their environment. So often across our world we see those who have so very little being so grateful for what they are given. As one of the refuges on the island in Greece whose camp was destroyed by fire said, ‘we are people too, we are human beings’. It is too easy at times to forget our own good fortune, our extremely comfortable lives and look with disdain on those less fortunate and with envy on those we perceive to have more.
Jesus’ parable was no doubt aimed at the Jewish people of his time, who saw themselves very much as God’s chosen nation, His people, and looked with disdain on Gentiles and many others whom Jesus associated with, the poor and sick, the tax collectors and those of ill repute. Jesus was trying to make it clear to his disciples that God did not have favourites, that His love, compassion and forgiveness was open to all those who seek it, available not on conditions or length of service but was, and still is, free and unconditional love for all.
So at the final judgement it is not our opinion, our prejudices or even our Christian faith and service that ensures our passage to eternity, for God will be the final judge, for us all here today and for all peoples and all generations.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last”.