Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-24,27; Psalm 145; Matthew 20:1-6
Whenever I read this morning’s Gospel lesson, I try to convince myself that I would not react like those first hired, that I would not feel that the paying of a full day’s wage to the last hired was unfair. I am usually not very successful, I know myself well enough that, even though I knew it was wrong, I would feel resentful and ill-used. I don’t think I am alone in that, I think most of us look around at the world and see people who have a better deal than us; a better job, more money, happier family, better health, smarter, better educated, etc., and we think why not me? Where is my share? We may even feel slightly resentful towards God. Why aren’t my prayers answered? Why have I not been blessed like that person is, am I not just as faithful? We have a hard time truly accepting Our Lord’s statement, “Thus the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
This is because we have not internalized this morning’s lesson from Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We hear these words and accept them, and even believe them, but when push comes to shove we really want God to be like us, to see fairness and justice from our point of view, to be on our side according to our standards, not God’s. This is all very natural and human, for unredeemed humanity, but it is not a Christian attitude. In our second lesson, St. Paul, writing from prison to the Church at Philippi, doesn’t know whether he will live or die, and doesn’t know which one he prefers. “I am strongly attracted to both: I long to be freed from this life and to be with Christ, for that is the far better thing; yet it is more urgent that I remain alive for your sakes.” He is leaving it up to God, whether he lives or dies, continues to labor on or go to be with Christ – each is fine, whatever God chooses. That is the Christian attitude. We cannot always, or even often, understand God’s purpose or reasoning in his choices for us, but we do not need to. If we love God, and trust God, and live our life in Christ, then we can know, with absolute certainty that what God chooses is right and best for us eternally. It may not seem so now, like the early workers we may feel we are being cheated, or overlooked, that others, somehow are getting what is ours. We need to put such thoughts and feelings aside, they are unworthy of us, as St. Paul writes, “Conduct yourselves, then, in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”
We may not understand, but we can trust. In a certain way, in our relationship with God, we are like a small child, who cannot understand the mysterious ways of its parents. “Why do I have to get up, I’m still sleepy?” “Why do I have to go to bed, I’m not tired?” “Why do I have to make my bed, I just mess it up again?” It is not possible for a small child to understand the meaning, purpose or reason behind most of what happens in its life, but a child can know love and trust and comfort and protection. And so can we. This is not easy for us, as Americans we have been surrounded by the idea of self-determination, taking charge of our own destiny, carving out our own niche. It is hard to let these ideas go and simply and humbly follow where God leads. We like to maintain the illusion of control, that we can, somehow, ensure the future, that we can make things, and sometimes people, turn out the way we want them to, and we even hope we can enlist God to help in our efforts. But that is not living life on life’s terms, that is living in fantasy and denial.
Living in love and trust means taking everything that comes with gratitude and humility, no matter how frustrating, frightening or confusing it may be. We may not know why it is happening, but we can know God, who is allowing it to happen, and trust in God’s greater knowledge, love and providence. We can trust God with our life, just like St. Paul did. We can also trust God with the lives of our loved ones. Worry is incompatible with trust. Worrying is a great waste of time and energy, and, in a sense, a slap in the face to our loving Father. We can trust in God’s love, care, mercy and intention, and even if we, or a loved one, is called home to God, we can know that it is the best for us and them. This does not mean that we do not mourn their passing, we will miss them, miss their presence here with us, but we do not despair, because we trust in God.
As we can trust God with our lives, we can also trust God with our faith, and the faith of those we care about. We can trust God with our families and our children and their eternal destiny. We have our work to do, being the best witness that we can be, living the most faithful life that we can, and then leave the rest up to God. No worrying, or unwanted urging or preaching, no expectations, or disappointments, just prayer, trust and hope. And letting go of the idea that the way we want things to go is the only way, or even the best way, don’t try to out-god God.
We should all be very thankful that God’s justice, fairness, mercy and forgiveness are infinitely greater than ours, or we would all be in big trouble. And, if we are honest, we really don’t want our standards of these virtues to be applied to us. Like the early workers, our standards are too often personally biased, what is good and right and just, is what is good and right and just FOR ME. Our Psalm says, “The Lord is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works.” That is the standard we want, and so that is the standard we must use, to the best of our ability. Love and compassion are a much better way of relating to the world than a strict human style justice.
In the parable in our Gospel lesson the owner of the vineyard says, “I am free to do as I please with my money, am I not? Or are you envious because I am generous?” In the parable, the vineyard owner represents God, and we can, as an exercise, replace the word money with something else, like; blessing, prosperity, health, happiness. Are we envious because God is generous with these things to others? If we are then we must repent, and be grateful that God is giving us exactly what we need for our journey of Theosis, not what somebody else needs. We need to get on the same page with God regarding our life and faith, they have a goal, and that goal is not completely fulfilled in the here and now, and to reach that true fulfillment we may have a hard slog today, and maybe tomorrow, and maybe for a lot of tomorrows, but if we keep our eyes on Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the goal, we will not sink in the stormy waves, but rise above them. And we will be living a life that is worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
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