Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Today’s text

Matthew 20:1-15

'Now the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, "You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage." So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing around, and he said to them, "Why have you been standing here idle all day?" "Because no one has hired us," they answered. He said to them, "You go into my vineyard too." In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, "Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first." So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner saying, "The men who came last have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day's work in all the heat." He answered one of them and said, "My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the lastcomer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why should you be envious because I am generous?"


I am grateful for a privilege often given to pastors. I get to sit and listen to other human hearts: to their pain and frustration, to their confusion and mistakes, to their unexpected joys and triumphs, to confessions of their fears and failures, their sins and great blessings.

It’s a privilege because in the listening I am moved to a generosity that is usually beyond me. In listening, I am aware of others’ humanity.

They are vulnerable and needy. They are confused and often a great mystery to themselves. They make bad decisions and suffer for them. They are strong and suddenly weak. They are in control of themselves on moment and weeping the next. They know exactly what they want and are clueless about what is happening to them.
They are human and flawed and just like me. No different. And sitting with them I am moved by the beauty of their spirit and their struggle to live.

Listening, I become I aware that I love this person before me, even though a few minutes before I knew nothing about them, sometimes not even their name.

I begin to see them with a gentleness and compassion that wants only the best for them, only life in its fullness, only beauty and joy, clarity and conviction about how beloved they are of God, and about what they are to do and be.

It’s a common experience for me, and common for almost anyone who has ever listened deeply into another human soul and discovered the beauty of its humanity.

Listening, we see with eyes of compassion. And for a few moments, we see as God sees. We feel as God feels. We are lifted above the evil eye of our fears and judgments of others. And in a moment of purest freedom, we become the generosity of God.

Our souls grow large, embracing, magnanimous. We see as God sees.

How does God see? It’s like this:

A landowner calls his workers in at the end of the day. They are day laborers, barely making enough each day to get by. Those who worked only an hour or so get paid. Those who worked half a day are paid the same. And those who sweat through the heat of the long day get the same amount.

The story is irritating, infuriating, unfair. It is just as upsetting as the co-worker who glides into his desk at 10:45 and glibly looks for coffee, unaware and uncaring that colleagues have had to do his work. At the end of the week, he takes credit for the success of the project. And everyone else in the office gives him the evil eye.

God sees like the land owner. He sees people who need to work, to feed their families, to know the dignity of meaningful labor. But God’s vision is far removed from human concerns for justice and fair play. The Holy One appears arbitrary, even arrogant: “It’s my money, and I can do with it as I please.”

There is no concern for fairness here. Our lives appear to be in the hands of an arbitrary power that cares nothing about how we see things, exercising divine power in ways uncontrolled by our standards.

God does not see as I see. God does not judge as we judge. God sees only through the eyes of infinite generosity.

Jesus irritating parable is about how differently God sees the world. God is not a bean counter. We all count bean in one way or another, keeping track, keeping score, seeing who is up or down, right or wrong, winning or losing.

God sees only one way: through the eyes of ultimate goodness, through the heart of unmerited and immeasurable generosity.

Those who insist on counting beans give the evil, envious, accusatory eye to the unfairness of all these see and encounter.

And they never discover how they are seen. They cannot know exactly how much they are loved. They cannot know the One who is Love and nothing but Love. They cannot know a generosity beyond imagination.

But we can see as God sees. Well, we can begin. And enter joy.

Pr. David L. Miller

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