Here’s the deal, let’s just get this over with right off the top. God is going to do what God pleases to do, and there isn’t much that you or I can do about that.
As strange as that may sound, that is precisely the problem we have with the scripture lessons today.
The point of the Jonah story is that God is going to choose to have mercy on those rotten Ninevites no matter how Jonah tries to thwart God.
You can be forgiven if you are confused as to why Jonah hope a boat to Tarshish and is reluctant at the start of the story, because he really doesn’t tell you until near the end.
Jonah wants those lousy folks in Assyria to fry.
Jonah wants to see Assyria punished because of what they did to the Northern Tribes of Israel. He wants God’s judgment rained down upon them, to see them consumed in righteous anger as they so rightly deserve. And so, when God calls him to go preach, he goes the opposite direction.
It is only toward the end of the story that we find out that Jonah knew God all too well! Jonah knew that God would forgive Assyria if they responded to the call to repentance. So, despite all his evading of the trip, and being swallowed by the fish, and his lousy preaching once he actually got there, God had compassion on them anyway.
The only one who ends up suffering in this story is Jonah, and that’s because of his own stubbornness.
Well, Jonah and the plant.
And in this Gospel lesson, what sticks in our craw is how unfair the situation ends up being.
It doesn’t matter in the Kingdom of God, if you’ve sweated and born the heat of the day all day, or whether you just had an hour of work and were one of the last ones in the field…you get the same payroll.
It doesn’t matter if you worked your hands raw, or whether you just dropped a few grapes in the basket at the end of the day. The wages are still the same.
And, it doesn’t do you a lick of good of you to complain about it, or to point out to the landowner, (to God) the unfairness of it all. The land owner is just going to go ahead and do what he wants to do anyway.
In fact, the landowner in the parable sets up the situation in which all can see what he intends to do. He sets up the pay line so that the folks who broke their backs all day long get to see that the late-comers are paid the same as them. He seems to invite controversy.
What is the point of that?
This is a parable of the Kingdom. The whole point here is to help us see that the way things work in this world is not the way things work in the Kingdom of God.
And that, my friends, is meant to annoy us.
Because we are so in bondage to this world.
We are so ingrained in the concept of things being fair, and just, and we are invested in the firm belief that you get what you pay for, and that you get what you deserve, and that is how it should be.
Isn’t that the truth?
Much as we want to believe in grace, when push comes to shove, we really don’t want to believe in it, or at least believe it should be applied equally to others.
We want to believe that grace for us, that we are God’s own people and due preferential treatment.
That is the definition of Privilege, after all. These good things apply to us, and we expect them, but that person over there? Well, he should get a little straightening up done before he is eligible for the grace of God!
We want to believe in grace when it comes to us, but want to hold out a little as it is applied to others. After all, if we didn’t the world just wouldn’t work. At least not in our favor.
Here’s the DACA immigration dilemma in a nutshell is it not? You have these young people who came here as dependent children with undocumented parents.
They have no green card, and no pathway to citizenship.
They know only this country and this language, so the call to “send them back home” is nonsense. This is their home.
They fit no legal criteria to make them citizens, because the laws to do so do not exist.
The only way forward, really, is to extend grace to them, but oh, but how we chafe at that idea! To do so would only encourage more to come! We wouldn’t want people just coming to this country as children to make a life here… not like our European ancestors did.
Of course, we tell ourselves, that was different. The rules were different. Borders were open. Immigration was encouraged… or as I like to put it sometimes, grace was extended — to our ancestors from Europe.
Or let’s take this table here, the Lord’s table.
Your pastor stands up here and announces that this is an open table…. anyone can come, open their hands, and receive the gifts of God that are given here; Everlasting life, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation.
He doesn’t even ask if you’re baptized!
I don’t check your membership, or your giving status, or anything…even to children if they thrust their hands out and want some “Jesus” too.
Radical, open grace is extended here every week… and I’m sure that annoys the dickens out of a few people.
It is meant to!
It is meant to be a visible reminder that God doesn’t play fair.
God doesn’t check your reservation status when you come in, or respond to a bill slipped to the Maitre de to get you a better seat or a better quality wine or bigger piece of bread.
This is Christ’s body given for you, shed for you, and Jesus has this nasty habit of welcoming all, particularly sinners and the marginal in society.
These gifts are for you, whoever that “you” might be…this bread, this wine, this body and blood, and all the gifts that they convey are given without price and without restriction.
There is no nice way to get around this. The point today is that the Kingdom of God is not ours to manage.
It is not ours to control, not ours to put parameters around, and not ours to make decisions about.
You and I, we are a lot more like Jonah than we ever want to admit. We can with our lips praise God, but in our hearts harbor all kinds of criteria.
This is who we’d like to have in church with us.
This is who we’d like to see in membership here. These “kind” of folks.
We need more kids.
We need more young families.
We need more pantry volunteers, more readers and communion assistants and choir members.
It sure would be nice to have some more folks come and join us here…the “right kind” of folks.
And, it would be, but we have to acknowledge that as soon as we start to think like that, to think about who it is that we would like to see here, we are applying the standards of this world. Our thoughts quickly become focused on how we would like to see things here, instead focused on the Kingdom and what God may already be doing in our midst.
That’s what’s going on in the parable. These workers, who were just happy to have a job a little bit ago, happy to have received the customary wage, the agreed upon amount, suddenly sour when they see radical grace in action.
When the end of the day comes and wages are paid, they get a chance to see radical grace in action, and immediately their minds go to comparing things, and they begin to impose their own expectations of what should be, and that’s when the trouble starts.
This parable is meant to annoy us. For you see, the one thing that we have gotten really good at is comparing ourselves to others, and looking at what others are getting, and what they have, and what we think we should have.
Those are the things of this world.
They are not the things that make for the Kingdom of God.
And to make for things that are of the Kingdom, God does only one thing consistently. God invites, without questioning. “Come in, and work.”
God has no criteria about who would be good workers.
God has no criteria about who might be the most useful to the task, or best suited for the job, or who would be most reliable or best able….if God did, he certainly wouldn’t have recruited from amongst the rag tag band of tax collectors, fishermen, zealots and Pharisees that he ended up with.
If God had any sense of criteria, in fact, he probably wouldn’t have recruited you, or me, with all of our faults, shortcomings, indecisions, cantankerousness and failings….
But, God is persistent with his invitation…and in giving the same benefits to all, no matter what.
It isn’t fair.
It isn’t incentive based.
It isn’t the way we would do things… but then that is precisely the point.
It is the way God does things, and there isn’t a blessed thing we can do about it.
It doesn’t matter it seems, in the Kingdom of God, if you’re an early adopter or the last one in the field…you get the same rewards.
It doesn’t matter if you work your hands raw, or just drop a few grapes in the basket at the end of the day. The wages are still the same.
And, it doesn’t do you a lick of good to complain about it to God, or to point out to the unfairness of it all. God’s just going to go ahead and extend grace and do what God wants with what is God’s to do with as God pleases.
For which we say…. “Thanks be to God!”
It is Grace, it is for us, and it is for everybody, and we’re just going to have to get used to that. Now the call for you and for me is to do what God does, to extend such grace to others as well, without hesitation or condition.