Saturday, September 20, 2014

Resenting God’s Grace

Jonah 3:10-4:11; Matthew 20:1–16
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a story, a parable. There are some day laborers hanging out at the temporary workers office, hoping to get a job for the day. A boss comes by and hires a few of them. They agree that the pay is $100 for the day’s work.
They set off and are put to work – let’s say clearing invasive species from the entrance to Homosassa Springs State Park. A few hours later, the boss goes back to get some more workers. They agree to the same wage. A few more times, the boss goes back to get more workers, and they agree to the same daily wage. By the end of the day, some folks have worked for 10 hours, some for 8, some for 5, some for 3, and some for just 1 hour.
At the end of the day, the boss calls the workers together to get their pay packet. It’s an envelope filled with cash, and a payment statement. They are to line up in the order in which they were hired, last hired first. One by one, they receive their envelopes. When those who worked only one hour opened their envelope, they found $100 in it. Those who worked 3 hours and 5 hours found the same $100 in their envelopes. By the time those who had worked 8 and 10 hours got their envelopes, they were fuming. “We worked ten long hours in the heat and all we get is $100. How come they get the same pay we get, and they didn’t work nearly as much as we did?”
The boss replies “When you were hired, you agreed that $100 is a fair day’s pay. It’s $10 an hour, more than minimum wage. Do you have a problem with me being generous to everyone?”
Of all the parables of Jesus, I think this one troubles us the most. I remember sitting with my friends in Sarah Circle as we talked about this parable. Mel was very angry. “I just don’t get it!” she exclaimed. Most of us older Americans were raised with the Protestant Work Ethic; if you work you have; and if you don’t work you don’t have. It’s that simple. Then Jesus has to throw this parable at us. It’s just not fair!
We all want God’s grace. We all recognize the need for it in our lives. Yet, we still single out people who we think don’t deserve that same grace. We too easily identify people who don’t qualify: they are of a different race, a different faith, a different sexual orientation, a different social class, a different age. They are our enemies. They have different values. They came to this country in different ways.
It’s really hard for us to see these different folks and want them to also have God’s grace. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how we think about it, this attitude has existed for thousands of years. It was present in the time of Abraham, at the time of Moses, at the time of the Kings of Israel and Judah, at the time of the prophets, and at the time of Jesus. And it is still with us today. Some people deserve God’s grace more than others, and usually, we believe that we are the ones who deserve it, and “they” – whoever they are – do not.
Jonah had the same problem. God told him to go east to Nineveh and tell the people there to worship only YHWH, otherwise God would destroy the city. The text says there were about 120,000 people in Nineveh, so a city about the size of Gainesville. But, Nineveh was the ancient enemy of Israel and Judah, and of most of the region because they were known to be vicious conquerors. So, Jonah headed west, to Tarshish, got thrown off the boat, swallowed by a big fish, and vomited up onto the beach. He got the message and went east to Nineveh.
His mission was successful and the people repented and worshiped YHWH. Jonah was angry, filled with resentment, and went outside the city to pout. He was so angry at God he wanted to die. Jonah, too, resented that God offered grace to even the Ninevites.
As I watched TV this week, I noticed resentment everywhere. We love to watch Father Brown on PBS. Father Brown is a Catholic parish priest in a small town in England who has a knack for solving mysteries. He usually sees the puzzle differently than Inspector Sullivan, who resents Father Brown’s meddling so much he has even put him in jail.
On the Steve Harvey Show, the star pitcher of Southside Chicago’s Little League team was a special guest. Mo’ne Davis has also thrown out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium, struck out Jimmy Fallon, and is in a video honoring Derek Jeter. When Mo’ne told her team that she had these opportunities they were resentful. After all, she didn’t win games on her own; it takes a team to win a game.
Resentment also fueled the response to this incident. The treasurer of a small congregation found himself in financial trouble and “borrowed” some money from the church to help pay his personal bills. He did this several times, and owed the congregation about $5,000 when the time came for the annual audit. His theft was discovered.
He appeared before the council, contrite, and promised to pay the money back. He did so, over time, and was forgiven by the congregation. Eventually, he moved from the area, but came back for a visit one day. Most in the congregation were happy to see him, but more than one person muttered, “What is HE doing here?” It is hard to grant grace when we feel we have been wronged, even when the debt has been paid.
I’m sure by now you know what your challenge is this week. Take a look inside your own heart and notice the resentment you have for others. What is the source of that resentment? How does that resentment shape your life, harden your heart, prevent you from forgiving and accepting?
How does God’s grace fit into your resentment?  How can God’s grace turn that resentment into acceptance and then love for a brother or sister, even though we may not like what they do or have?

Please pray with me. God of grace, we give thanks constantly for your grace in our lives. Help us see your grace in others, and teach us to be grace-filled towards all, even our enemies. Amen