Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16
It seems it’s never enough – whatever we have, we always want more, we always want something different, we always want what the other person has. And when we notice that we want something different, we complain, grumble, manipulate until we get what we want.
The Israelites who had so recently left slavery behind in Egypt are not hungry; they have manna, food provided by God. God also provides quails, so they have meat, too. Even so, the Israelites try to hoard the manna, picking up more than they need, but it doesn’t last; it rots before they can eat it. They have enough, but it isn’t enough.
In the Gospel reading, the first workers hired agree to a wage that is fair. The exact amount is not specified, but it is enough. A few hours later, the next workers are hired for a fair wage. Again, it is not specified how much they will be paid. More workers are hired, again and again, the wage is fair.
For easy math, let’s use the figure of $5 an hour, for 10 hours, or $50 a day. In our time, this is not a lot of money, but it’s about what tomato pickers get in Florida. As little as it is, it’s better than not working at all. The longer the workers wait to get hired, the more concerned they become that they will not be able to feed their families. We talked last Monday in our new class about how hard it is to not have work, and we decided that it’s harder to not have any work than it is to work long hours at low pay.
At the end of the day, the workers hired last get their pay first, and are ecstatic that they receive $50. The workers hired first begin to calculate that they will have a pretty big payday. They assume that if the last workers get $50 for only 2 or 3 hours of work, the first workers are expecting to get $200 or more. But the owner has a surprise for them all. The next two groups of workers also receive $50.
And so do the workers hired first. Their dreams of a big payday have been burst. Instead of being happy they are being paid what they were promised, they are resentful that they didn’t get more. They had enough, but it wasn’t enough.
This is the way we all are, too. No matter how much we have, even if it is enough, it’s not enough. Pastor Gary has a boat he uses on the St. Joseph River, and out onto Lake Michigan. One day, he was talking about his boat and thinking about a new one. He jokes that the perfect boat is always 2 feet longer than the one he has now.
Modern marketing teaches us that something new is always better than what we have. There is always a new phone, a new car, a new TV that is better than the one we have now. Until recent years, housing values rose and rose and rose, all financed on the idea that enough was not enough.
Jesus tells us something very different. He says, “Enough is enough.” He also tells us it’s up to God to determine how much is enough for us. It doesn’t seem fair that some people get millions while we are scraping by on thousands. It doesn’t seem fair to us that the guy next door can have a new luxury car every year or two, and we have to get by with the economy model every seven or eight or ten years. It doesn’t seem fair to us that Jethro and Phoebe get promotions and raises and we don’t.
This inequality is not what God wants, when it means that some of us go to bed with full tummies, and so many of God’s children go to bed hungry each night. This inequality happens because some people – make that lots of people, including us – think enough is not enough, and because we have more ways to store food today than the Israelites in the desert did.
I’d like you to do a little exercise. I have asked the ushers to hand out two index cards to each of you. On one card, I invite you to write something that for you, enough is not enough; think of something you think you deserve more of. Try to think of something more important than getting more chocolate – although, who ever has enough chocolate? Write something you have enough of, but think, enough is really not enough, on one of the cards. ...
On the other card write something for which you are grateful, or some way in which you have been blessed. In what do you have an abundance, Lots more than enough? Write one of your abundant blessings on the second card. ...
When we think about this parable from a spiritual standpoint, we just don’t get it. I remember leading the circle Bible study about this parable, and my good friend Maryann saying, no, it doesn’t work for her. She was almost angry in her inability to accept that God is like the landowner in the story. We resent the fact that people who live crummy lives get just as much love from God as those who try hard to live the way God wants us to. It just doesn’t seem fair that we don’t get more love than those others do, even though the love we’ve had from the beginning is enough. We think we deserve more than enough love.
This resentment, this feeling that enough is not enough is caused by sin – ours and others. What matters is that we all get the same amount of love and forgiveness for sin that everyone else gets. That’s the shockingly good news in this parable.
I invite you now to look at those cards you wrote on. Put one in each hand. How much do they weigh? Is one heavier than the other? Physically, they weigh the same. Yet, emotionally, one weighs a lot more than the other. One of them weighs down your heart, your spirit; the other lifts you up. One of them fills you with dissatisfaction, anger or resentment; the other fills you with joy.
Please choose one card to give away. Which one should it be? Can you bear to give away one wish for more than enough? Or would you prefer to give away a blessing? It’s your choice. Please pass one card to the ushers, and keep the other as a reminder of the choice you made today.
Our constant quest for more than enough drives our discontent, and at the same time it prevents us from trusting God. When we never believe we have enough, we think God hasn’t taken good enough care of us. Certainly, there are probably areas in our live where we could use some more, but when we compare ourselves to those who have less, we already have more than enough. We have homes, we have food, we have medicine, we have cars. That’s more than many people in our county have.
I haven’t issued a challenge lately. This is a good opportunity. I invite you this week to consider all that you have. This week, I invite you to think about: Where do you have enough, and more than enough? What do you want more of? Why do you want more of it?
Please pray with me: God of abundance, we don’t always remember all that you have given us and done for us. Forgive us, and help us to see that we do have enough, and more than enough. Amen
Children’s message: Native Americans celebrate Three Sisters—the harvest of corn, squash and beans at the time of the autumnal equinox September 23, 2011.