Hey, is that fair?

Let me be honest: every now and then, Jesus says something that rubs me the wrong way.  I can feel that resistance inside myself that says, I don’t want to hear that right now. Could we just talk about that some other time? 

This Sunday’s readings are one of those times. We hear the gospel parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). The property owner goes out early in the morning to find people to work in the vineyard.  Once the early birds are working, the owner goes out several times during the day to find still more workers standing around idle (read that: can’t find work), so he hires these other workers as well.

The Late-arriving Workers by JESUS MAFA*

At the end of the day, the early-bird workers are paid the full day’s wages.  But then a surprising thing happens:  the other workers are also paid a full day’s wages, despite the fact they worked fewer hours.

Naturally, the early-bird workers, who toiled long hours in the hot sun, are jealous of the Johnny-come-lately workers. They complain to the owner, who responds, in effect, Hey, what’s the big deal? Didn’t I give you the full day wages I promised you, for your full day of work? Can’t I be generous with my own money if I want, and help these other men feed their families tonight if I want to? 

The parable ends with Jesus saying these now-famous words:

the last will be first, and the first will be last…

The point of the parable is not about how much a person is paid per hour, but rather about the generous love of God. Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven, in which God’s love and mercy are abundant and infinite.  In the kingdom of heaven, the newly converted Christian takes his or her place at the table along side those who followed Christ their whole lives. Those who are of “little account” in the world will have a great place at the heavenly table.

I think some of us are reluctant to dig deeper into this parable because it challenges our status quo.  We who are the “early-bird Christians” might secretly feel we are better than the newly converted Christian.  The people whose families have been in the United States for generations secretly (or not so secretly) despise the new Americans. Those who are heterosexual may have trouble accepting people who are in same-sex relationships. People working long hours may resent those who receive government assistance.

Jesus’ parable reminds us today that God’s love is far more abundant and far-reaching than we can imagine. We may be jealous of others, or secretly think we are better than others–and therefore more deserving of God’s attention and love–but to this Jesus says we are wrong.  God loves those “other people” just as much as God loves me or you. God’s generosity, mercy, and compassion are without end and for all people–much more than we can begin to fathom.

And if God is loving, merciful, and generous towards all people, doesn’t that mean those of us who claim to follow Christ should do the same?

 

*Artwork credit:
JESUS MAFA. The Late-arriving Workers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48296 [retrieved September 22, 2017].

 

Things Jesus Said. . . and meant (3)

Jesus’ view of family was expansive. He loved his mother and all his extended family, but his views of family went far beyond blood relationships.  The gospel of Mark tells us that “all who do the will of God” were considered to be the mother,  brother and sister of Jesus (Matt. 12:50).

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, slowly losing his life, he saw his mother standing there, along with “the disciple he loved” (possibly John, the one who wrote the gospel with this story). Knowing that he could no longer care for his mother, he asked this disciple to care for her…and for her to take care of the disciple:

40 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Woman here is your son (click on image to enlarge)

Over the centuries, Christians have interpreted this in a variety of ways, and that is as it should be. Scripture is full of meaning–many layers of meaning, like a poem.

 So what does this bible passage speak to me today? I’m thinking about how this nearly-final utterance of Jesus crosses boundaries. Jesus could have told Mary to go live with her brother, uncle, or cousin. Instead, he asks Mary to take up residence with his friend, a disciple.

His choice is significant because it breaks with blood relationships–and, I assume, the social/religious customs of his time and place.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, enters into a kind of familial relationship with the disciple. John is to treat Mary as his mother, and Mary is to treat John as her son. Considering their culture, this makes it quite likely that Mary would go to live at John’s home, or that John might go to live with her.

All this reminds me that Jesus invites us to view others outside of our blood relatives, as if they were family members. “Love one another” is not only a slogan for those in one’s family, but rather reaches down the street, through the village, beyond culture and nationality–and, in our time, into the global community.

This is especially relevant in this time of intense polarization in my country. Jesus does not love only Democrats or Republicans; rather Jesus loves them all as members of his family. Jesus does not love only “straight” or only “gay” people–Jesus loves them all, and welcomes all to be his “brother” or “sister.” Christ does not view people outside of the Christian church as enemies, but rather as created by God, loved by God, as children of God.

 This is what I believe: Jesus loved all people while dying on the cross.  Jesus died to bring life to the world… the whole world, and all the people in it.

And Jesus continues, this day and into the future, to love all people.

Until next time, Amen! 

Francis de Sales quote about love

Today’s quote deals with how love draws us toward what is truly good:

33 Lent--Week 5--Compassion--Francis de Sales

I’m thinking that this “advancement” is a word referring to growth. When we love others, our souls move in a positive, good direction. Love draws us into a better way of living.

“Effusion” refers to giving off something like a liquid or scent. It’s an “outpouring” of sorts. Love has a quality of pouring out itself, overflowing to others.  (Makes me think of the sermon on Sunday when the pastor poured water into a glass that eventually filled and overflowed. When we allow God’s love to enter our hearts, the love fills us, and then overflows into loving others, giving God’s love to others.)

There is much to ponder about love–and much to put into practice. Love is one of those things that is ever-growing, ever-expanding… if only we agree to allow love to do its work.

Until next time, Amen! 

 

Blessed to be a blessing for others

Today’s quote about almsgiving and sharing is from John Calvin, key figure and theologian during the Protestant Reformation days. This quote caught my eye because of today’s political/religious climate.

25 Lent--week 3--almsgiving--Calvin

“Love one another” means being willing to share with others. The Christian way is a spiritual path that seeks to give to others more than to receive from them. It can be difficult to remember this in the midst of media bombardment about the latest recipes for good looks, wealth, and material things.

Will you pray with me?

Come, Holy Spirit,
remind us often
that everything we own–
belongings, money, time, talents–
comes from Creator God…
Inspire us often to share with others,
and give us the courage to let go
of all that we ought to share with others.

Until next time, Amen! 

Many kinds of “almsgiving”

There are many ways to “give alms”… I think the main point is to think of the needs of others and to share the gifts you have with them. Some gifts are monetary or physical possessions, like clothes and dishes. Others are the talents we have been given by God to use for the good of ourselves and others.

24 Lent--week 3--almsgiving--Bush(click on image to enlarge)

Until next time, Amen!

 

Advice from Jesus about almsgiving

Words from Jesus about almsgiving:

21 Lent--week 3--almsgiving--Jesus in Matt 6 3

Jesus must have known people who were giving as a way of showing off to others. They gave to those in need (charities)  as a way to prove to others they were holy, and even “holier” than those around them. As a result, they received a good deal of praise for their actions.

It’s something to think about . . . Do we give to others because we care, or do we give to see our name emblazoned in stone for others to admire?   You can read more of what Jesus said in chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel. (If you don’t have a bible, just google “Matthew 6  3 ” or “Matthew 6”.)

Until next time, Amen!