Sunday, 18 September 2011

The first shall be last

I have read and heard some excellent sermons on today’s passage from Matthew – the story of the Vineyard owner who hires the latecomers and then pays them the same price as those who have worked a full day in the heat. I was reading around the passage yesterday on the internet and I made the following comment (tidied up a bit!) in response to a sermon on Lesley's blog:

I love this passage- it is certainly about God’s generous, ridiculous love. It also warns us that God’s justice is not the same as the justice of our world. It occurs to me that we are all (at times) like the full day workers, grumbling at God and a bit aggrieved and resentful that newcomers might be as good or “better” Christians than us. At other times we are all like the latecomers, we really need to feel we fully belong and are as “worthwhile” as all those more conventional or seasoned Christians we know. How delighted the latecomers must have been to get a full day’s pay, to feel equal to the rest and to go home able to feed their families properly. It must have felt like gift, not something they’d “earnt”. Those who have felt the full force of being loved when we didn’t really think we were that loveable really value God. To me, that is the message – God’s love is a gift.

After the sermon in church today, I thought a little more about the idea that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” It was suggested that we might feel uncomfortable with this idea; I find it rather reassuring. It reassures me because one of the things I find most repellent about organised religion is the way it can treat some individuals as though they are the lowest of the low, the way that some Christians seem to think it is all about respectability, or about some sort of Church hierarchy. I like it that God starts from a completely different premise.

I kept thinking that, in this parable, the first really were the last, not because they received less, but because of their attitude to what they received. The grumblers were paid the same generous wage as the others, but they went home poor because of their resentment over what they “deserved”, what they were rightly “owed”. The latecomers went home very rich, rejoicing because they hadn’t deserved very much, but they were given everything – which is what we should all be like whether we worked all day or not!

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