Labouring for the Lord - Matthew 20:1–16
We live in a world that asserts a fair days wage for a fair days work. The union movement built its entire movement on acquiring this, and maintaining it. Regardless of whether we think wages in Australia are too high, compared to other parts of the world, the emphasis on fairness remains central. We hear of employers treating employees like slaves, or importing cheap labour who get paid outside the law, and most Australians become agitated and concerned. Of course, on the other end of the scale, we cannot comprehend how any individual is worth a multimillion dollar salary, or how our politicians get paid well above what most people would consider normal, and we become indignant.
Too often we carry the same notions into the church. Those who have been members longest, who have contributed the most in time and money, who have remained faithful even when things were difficult, believe they should have more say than those who are new and recent to the church. The young ones, who are yet to “really do their time” are relegated to youth programs and side line matters. New Christians, who are passionate and excited about being a Christian, we treat with suspicion as if they’re going to take “my church” away from me. While we think that we know what is fair, this too often becomes discriminatory and prevents God from allowing new growth to empower His church.
When Jesus compares the kingdom of God with a landowner, it is this notion of what we think is fair and unfair that he most readily addresses to the Jews who were listening. Chapter 19 & 20 in Matthew’s Gospel is the final conversation with the Jewish leaders before he enters Jerusalem. Again, they are concerned about faithful adherence to the law as a mark of being God’s true people. So the parable is radical in that Jesus tells them, those outside the “people of God” as they defined it, would enter the kingdom of God as equals. The Gentiles, the outcasts, the ones they traditionally shunned, will receive the same unconditional grace as God has shown to them. In fact, it may be they will actually miss out altogether because they’re focussed on what they are doing, and not on what God is doing for all people.
Being church is not an elite social club of people all related in some way, who have built whatever it is they think they have built, for the benefits of its “elite” membership. Being church is about an openness to God’s unconditional grace which those who have been there for a long time have enjoyed more than those who are new. That enjoyment, however, was never for our benefit, but so we may go into the world and invite those who do not know it to come and experience it with us. That’s Jesus heart right there. Not to sit around setting up a series of tests by which we can determine if you are in or not, but to go out and invite people to join us regardless of the rules.
The world in which we live know what is a fair days wage for a fair days work. But the work we do in the kingdom is not about reward, it is about blessing. The work we do, everything we do as church, is all about God’s invite to be blessed by the unconditional grace and love found in his Son Jesus. Surely the only unfair thing about that is that there are too many people who have not yet discovered what we know to be true.