Sermon, The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2020
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6,37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
“There is enough saving grace for everyone in God’s Kingdom”
The parable of the labours in the vineyard only appears in the gospel according to Matthew and seems to belong/relate more to the Jewish Christian community. This parable illustrates the principle of symbolic interpretation of the vineyard, the denarius, hours of the day for hiring workers, and the reverse order of payment. However, the symbolic interpretation misses the point by highlighting the dreadful working conditions of casual labour in the Hellenistic-Roman world.
It was common practice for employers to go to the market place to look and hire unemployed men who waited for an opportunity to be hired (mostly as labourers). Such people would agree to work for one denarius, a coin representing a day’s lowest level of subsistence wage. Also, it was common practice that as the day went on and more laborers were needed, more people would be hired and paid the same wage as those who were hires earlier than them.
While the grumbling of the labourers who were hired first for being paid the same rate as those who were hired at 5:00 p.m. may seem reasonable to us today, it was not an issue for the capitalist of the ancient world who was master of the money. Probably that explains why labourers were not rebuked for dissatisfaction of what they received, but for their dissatisfaction that others received the same as they did.
However, it was made clear to the labourers that the employer had a right to be generous so that all who worked for him would at least have enough to live on for that day. Nothing was taken away from one employee to give to another and there was enough for everyone who came to work for this employer.
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard generates a lot of discussion amongst members of the Christian faith community. Some find it difficult that individuals who come to the Lord at later times of their lives seem to cause uneasiness to those who have kept their faith and laboured for most of their lives. Some have even wondered how grace would be applied to repeat-offenders who at their death-bed repent and are believed to be granted forgiveness from God. Would this mean that being faithful to God, and law-abiding citizen for the whole their life is useless because there is unlimited grace?
What this parable does is to indicate that an early call has no relevance to standing in the reign of God. Whenever one is admitted or turns to the Lord, that person is admitted to full participation and no questions are asked. There is a broad entrance for all people at all times to receive God’s grace and experience God’s love. What matters is to turn to God and be accepted. Also, the reign of God does not become a property of those who first turned to the Lord but is a property of all who hear the call and respond positively regardless of the time or how long it takes them to do so.
Today is the memorial service in remembrance of our loved ones who have died in the parishes of St. Clements, Mapleton where over 9000 people are buried in the Churchyard. Most of these people expressed faith in God during their time and age and passed on this faith to you who are left behind. Today, we confess faith in God following the footsteps of our ancestors and hoping for the same grace from God just as they did while they walked this land.
We too have the assurance that God is present with us, merciful to us, gracious to us and loving as was the case with our ancestors. We come to faith later than our parents and sooner than the generation to follow. It is not when we turn to the Lord that matters but the act itself, and it is never too late for God’ grace.