Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against theLord.”
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
1 Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
37 He led out his people with silver and gold; *
in all their tribes there was not one that stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad of their going, *
because they were afraid of them.
39 He spread out a cloud for a covering *
and a fire to give light in the night season.
40 They asked, and quails appeared, *
and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.
41 He opened the rock, and water flowed, *
so the river ran in the dry places.
42. For God remembered his holy word *
and Abraham his servant.
43 So he led forth his people with gladness, *
his chosen with shouts of joy.
44 He gave his people the lands of the nations, *
and they took the fruit of others' toil,
45 That they might keep his statutes *
and observe his laws.
To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well-- since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 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.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Our human sense of justice rebels against this seemingly unfair mercy. The Jonah in us whines about the mercy of God toward wretched Ninevites, just as those who labored all the day long grumbled against the employer who gave the same wage to all. Living a life worthy of the gospel, Paul reminds us, is not about keeping score. It is about sharing in the suffering of humanity for the sake of sharing the message of the cross and Christ’s sacrifice to everyone—especially those we judge to be unfit recipients of it.
When Jesus tells a parable, he often uses many of the story-telling techniques that are vital to telling a joke.
In a joke you usually start out with a reasonable situation; then you gradually make it less believable so that people can’t be sure where you’re going. You drop subtle hints that the joke will turn out one way, and then you spring the twist, the revelatory surprise.
In the parable of the vineyard Jesus starts with a reasonable situation, then begins to slowly build toward the surprise, the twist that makes his point.
This story of workers and wages is not about economics, or farm management, or even human relations; it is about the incredible grace of God.
The story really begins in Chapter 19 after Jesus tells the rich young ruler to give away all that he has for the kingdom.
Peter overhears this and brags to Jesus, “Look, we gave up everything and followed you; what then will we have?
I imagine Jesus getting a somewhat pained look on his face and then saying with a crooked smile, “Hey, Peter, did you hear the one about?”
There was this man who owned a small vineyard. He needed some workers so he went into town around dawn and went down to the corner where all the unemployed guys hang out. He talked to a few of them and hired them. (The set-up; a reasonable situation)
As the day goes by the vineyard owner keeps going back to town to hire more people, at 9 at noon, at 3 in the afternoon. All he says is, “I’ll pay you what’s right.”
No money amount is mentioned. (Less reasonable, but building to “punch-line.)
Then, a really crazy thing happens that upsets the “reasonableness” of the story. The owner goes back to town and hires still more workers with only an hour to go in the workday, again saying “I’ll pay you what’s right.” (Nobody does that, what’s going on here?)
Then we have the pay-off scene. Jesus has set us in the minds of his hearers and in our minds the idea that since this is a story of God’s generosity, and since we have an assumption that God is fair; then, we think, whoever worked all day will make the most and the ones hired last will make the least.
So when the ones who only worked an hour get a full day’s wage, why there is jubilation in the camp, there is joy, joy, joy, deep in their hearts. Glory Hallelujah, Christmas has come early this year.
Everybody is multiplying their hours in the vineyard against a day’s wage and coming up with some goodly sums. Then they start listening, what, what did he say? That can’t be right. Everybody gets a day’s wage. But, but, we were out there all day, and these people were only out there an hour. This is not fair.
And the owner said, “Why isn’t it fair? I paid you what I said I would pay you.”
Now Jesus is not naive, he knows this sort of thing wouldn’t work in the real world. No employer is likely to really do that.
No, Jesus is using the stark unfairness of the story to teach one basic truth:
God’s generosity is not tied to any of our human notions of fairness or equity.
The whole story was told in response to Peter’s question about what rewards the disciples would get for giving up everything and following Jesus.
Underneath Peter’s question is the assumption that somehow those who serve longest and best receive more rewards than those who serve short term and poorly.
We think like that sometimes, don’t we? We say, “Well, if anybody’s in heaven, it’ll be old so-and-so. What a genuinely good guy he is.” as is salvation had anything to do with human goodness.
Jesus takes this assumption and turns it upside down with this parable.
He reminds us that God is both good and fair, but god is good and fair on God’s terms, not ours.
Friend, I am doing you no wrong, did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?
We have, Jesus shows us here, an almost unstoppable capacity for figuring our own advantage in almost any situation.
And the Gospel is; thank God, God doesn’t calculate things the way we do.
God figures our merits with a calculus of grace that is far beyond anything we can comprehend except to know that God’s love is so overwhelming and generous that all we can do is receive it into our lives and share it with others without trying to figure out how we earned it or whether or not others are worthy.