Homily preached at Winmalee by Br. Simeon Sunday 21st September 2014:
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
The parable of the generous vineyard owner: “Are you envious because I am generous? Thus the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
May I speak in the Name of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Be honest. When you heard the reading of the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard just a few minutes ago, did your heart leap for joy? Were you thrilled when you heard that the workers who'd toiled and slaved all day long in the hot sun were going to get the same day's wages as those who'd worked only one hour? I think not!
The first part of the 20th chapter of Matthew records another story that Jesus told, this time about the wages paid to the workers in the vineyard. It clearly is about serving the Master, or working in the kingdom, but the twist here is that many of those who worked in the vineyard did not think that the wages were fairly paid.
The story follows logically the ideas of the last chapter concerning wealth and the kingdom of heaven, that is, following the Lord and the cost of that discipleship. The theme of the last being first and the first being last ended that chapter, and this one as well. God’s economy of grace is not the same as the natural order people expect.
The parable of the generous vineyard owner (which appears only in Matthew’s Gospel) is the first of several parables and exhortations challenging the Pharisees and scribes and those who criticised Jesus for preaching to tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus makes two points in this parable:
First, the parable speaks of the primacy of compassion and mercy in the kingdom of God. The employer (God) responds to those who have worked all day that he has been just in paying them the agreed-upon wage; they have no grievance if he chooses to be generous to others.
God's goodness and mercy transcends the narrow and limited laws and logic of human justice; it is not the amount of service given but the attitude of love and generosity behind that service.
The parable also illustrates the universality of the new Church. The contracted workers, Israel, will be joined by the new “migrant workers,” the Gentiles, who will share equally in the joy of the kingdom of God.
Today’s Gospel strikes at our tendency to judge everything and everyone in terms of how it affects me. How someone else benefits or is lifted up doesn’t matter — my hurt feelings trump their joy. Christ calls us to embrace the vision of the generous vineyard owner: to rejoice in the good fortune of others and their being enabled to realise their dreams, instead of lamenting our own losses and slights.
We have our scales, time clocks and computer printouts to measure what is just and what is not; but God is generous, loving and forgiving with an extravagance that sometimes offends our sense of justice and fair play.
Christ calls us to look beyond labels like “tax collector” and “prostitute” and seek out and lift up the holiness and goodness that reside in every person who is, like each one of us, a child of God. The parable of the generous vineyard owner invites us to embrace the vision of God that enables us to welcome everyone to the work of the harvest, to rejoice in God’s blessings to all, to help one another reap the bounty of God’s vineyard.