Today we heard a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was fond of using parables to communicate with his disciples. Some listened and understood what he was getting at, but most of his hearers must have thought he was a little kooky.
This is one of those that made no sense to those with a mind for business. The land owner was hiring laborers all day long to work in his vineyard, some in the morning, some at midday and some near the end of the day. Then he had his manager call the laborers and pay them. The ones hired last got a full day of wages, which of course will not make sense to a worldly businessman. Then the trouble began.
The ones hired earlier began to expect to be paid more, but received only what they had agreed on at the beginning of the day. Then the grumbling started. It doesn’t seem fair to them, but the landowner maintained it was it was his right to pay the laborers as he wanted.
The end of the parable has what we would call the “moral of the story.”
The landowner says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Jesus was not one for the status quo. He upended the conventional wisdom of his day many times during his short walk on earth.
He told people many times that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, meaning right here, right now, but people had a hard time understanding what he meant. That is because most people did not consider him as God the Son. To them he was a mostly irreverent wanderer and teacher, someone who was a thorn in the side of the religious leaders.
We know him as our Lord and Savior, so when we read these parables of the kingdom of heaven, we have the perspective of knowledge of the big picture. We know that Jesus is God, the Word made flesh, but we probably still have some hazy understanding about the kingdom of heaven.
We are drawn here to worship the Lord, to receive the sacraments, to listen to the words of Holy Scripture, but how are we living our lives every other hour of the week? Are we focusing on what our Lord is telling us, or on what we hear in the news?
Are we treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated? Are we reading the Bible or a devotional to deepen our relationship with the Lord? I admit I don’t spend as much time reading sacred texts as I should. I do know that when I do, I draw closer to being the kind of person our Lord wants me to be.
This parable also gives us an insight into the character of God the Father. His generosity with us knows no bounds. He is as generous with the new believer as he is with one who has been a life long believer. He shows no partiality with his love. To each of us who believe and accept the Lord, he gives his Spirit to live in us. In that process, we begin to die to ourselves, and allow the Spirit of God to be our lives. St. Paul said, living is Christ and dying is gain.
In the letter to the Philippians that we heard today, he gave them this advice;
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”
Standing firm in one spirit is a key to living in Christ. All of us here at the Church of St. John the Divine should be standing firm in one spirit. When we do that, we are doing the work of the Lord for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
If we can live generously at this church, not only will we be making a difference in the lives of the many people we help, but we will be assuring that this church will continue to thrive in this community.
We were once asked the question, “If this church were to close, would anyone outside of it take notice?” Would be be missed? When we heard this question we knew the answer. Yes, people would notice, because we make a large impact to the needs of this community. We support several causes, more than some of you know about. What you give to this church does not just support us, but many others around us. Perhaps we should publish this list of organizations that we support. You will be amazed, trust me!
Can we live as generously as the landowner in the parable? Can we put others first, so the first will be last, and the last will be first? I believe we can if we stop living our lives only for ourselves and start putting the needs of others high up on the list.
Don’t be afraid to be generous, because the Lord will be generous with you in ways you cannot imagine. Hear the words of Psalm 145 again;
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
This is the kingdom of heaven. Amen.