Signpost for Sunday 21st September 2014: Exod 16:2-15; Ps 105:1-6, 37-45; Phil 1:21-30; Matt 20: 1-16
The link between Exodus and Matthew this week is grumpy people. The Jews are an ungrateful lot who moan about being hungry. The disciples seem utterly self-centred, looking out for themselves. It’s the disciples’ behavior I found harder to get to grips with.
The parable of the employer who pays every worker the same, no matter how long they have worked, is followed immediately by the mother of the sons of Zebedee asking if James and John can be the top dogs after Jesus himself in heaven. Not surprisingly the other ten get very annoyed with James and John.
Is James and John’s ma just a pushy mum or what, though? Well, apparently some scholars think James and John might well have been Jesus’s cousins and their mother, whom they think from Mark 15:40 was Salome, would be his aunty. So was it all a touch of ‘keep it in the family’?
Maybe, but what struck me more is that the disciples are behaving just like the workers in the parable. And even though Jesus doesn’t tell them off much but says it’s not his to place to promote one man above another, he then goes on to echo the words of the parable’s conclusion: the first shall be last (Matt 19:30). In other words, haven’t the disciples been listening, again?
But what are we to think of the employer. Is he generous? Is he just? Is he even fair?
Maybe he’s none of those. Maybe he’s loving. As far as he’s concerned it’s not the late workers’ fault that they didn’t have the chance to work all day. So what can we infer from this if, as most people think the employer stands for God himself? Just one thing perhaps: the generosity of God’s love has nothing to do with what we deserve. It ignores our personal merit. Instead God’s way of doing things relies less on justice, more on mercy or better still that lovely word, grace.
Or to put it another way, it’s not about whether we have been trying to let our ‘manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ’ (Phil 1:27) throughout our lives or whether we’ve only just realized that’s the thing to do, it’s simply about the fact that we really are trying.