Reflection for Proper20, 14 Pentecost
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6,37-45; Philippians 1:20-30; Matthew 20:1-16
by The Rev. Camille Hegg
The gospel for this week is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The owner hires people at several times during the day. The first ones hired are promised the usual daily wage. The others hired throughout the day are promised ‘whatever is right.” At the end of the day all of the laborers are given the same wage. The early hires are unhappy that the later ones received the same, but the owner says to them that he has done them no injustice and that he chooses to be generous.
There is a cute TV commercial in which two elementary school sisters come running into their house after school and run for the snacks in the kitchen. They find that there is only one cookie left in the bag. They look at each other for a moment and after pondering, the older girl gives the younger one the cookie. She says ‘thank you’ and runs off. The older girl looks down at the empty bag and, lo and behold, there is a cookie there.
I think the commercial has something to do with the parable for this week. At first glance one might think the ad is more a loaves and fishes story. It could be. I also think it is a story of generosity, just as the parable for this week is.
Sometimes we get caught up in the ‘fairness’ of the parable. I have had classes over the years on the parables and I almost always include this one. I talk about God’s generosity and how God wants us to look at things upside down from what we would usually do, and to act the same. Jesus certainly turned upside down thinking and assumptions of God. Sometimes this suggestion makes people mad.
A generous God who gives not according to what we think is fair? Who might want us to change our thinking and actions? Probably expects us to do the same?
I once had a man throw down his Bible and pen and walk out and say ‘that is not fair!’ We look for ‘fairness” when God is trying to show us generosity.
I enjoy the parable because of the generosity of the owner. I think it gives us a unique understanding of Jesus’ understanding of God and his own mission. It also gives us a glimpse of how we might try to respond to the generosity of creation and the creator. Generosity is the value in the parable, not fairness. The little girl in the commercial probably could have asserted her power and age and grabbed the cookie for herself. She chose to give it away.
I discern a sense of generosity lacking in our culture. People are scared about the economy and hold back. People with power are treating minorities badly, trying to make voting access harder, trying to take away take away bargaining power rather than working together to come to solutions for financial wellness. Children of immigrants are being punished by possible deportation, lack of access to education. A generous look at immigration, especially children, would probably engender thriving of our country rather than taking away anything. There is a backlash against women, minorities and even children that at best is not generous and at worst prevents the thriving of our churches, schools, government and the humans involved in these institutions.
In our churches, those with the power could foster welcome and inclusion of newer ones to participate. Yet I have seen long-time members of churches express resentment that a new person puts forth an idea, or ‘sits in their seat.’ I have seen a distinct impatience and lack of generosity toward children.
(I have also seen the opposite, where new people, children, homeless, people with accents – probably illegal -- were welcomed and generously received.)
In this parable, the one with the power, the owner, chooses to be generous. The creator, generous as the creator is, has implanted in us the ability toward generosity and calls us to be so. If we choose to ignore or deny this God-given given yearning toward generosity, we are losing out on one of the fundamental, mysterious and miraculous gifts of creation. If ‘fairness’ is our only guide and value in making decisions we are missing out on the depth of satisfaction and joy with which we were created. The child in the commercial gave the only cookie away not expecting anything in return.
Generosity has its own mysterious reward. Generosity is God’s pleasure, our gift and task.