Jonah 3.10-4.11; Matthew 20.1-16
Recently, President Trump made a deal with Democrats, in the hope of getting things done in Congress. The Republicans were not happy. They were thinking, in making this deal, President Trump has made them, the Democrats, equal to us Republicans.
This emotion, this resentful-ness, this envy, is a familiar theme in our lives, and it shows up in two of the readings today.
… The First Reading is from Jonah. Jonah is from the Northern Kingdom, which was called Israel in those days. This later became the territory of Samaria.
We tend to focus on the first part of Jonah’s story. God tells him to go to Nineveh and tell the Ninevites YHWH says Repent! And how does Jonah respond? He gets on a boat in the opposite direction! He ends up being thrown overboard, swallowed by a big fish, vomited out onto the beach. And, then, finally, he heads to Nineveh.
We often stop telling the story at this point. We are satisfied Jonah does eventually do what God tells him to do. But, there is more to the story, and we hear part of it today. The Ninevites do indeed respond to Jonah’s warning, and that makes Jonah furious. He was SO looking forward to seeing God destroy them!
To understand his anger, we have to remember that at that time, Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria. And we remember that Israel and Assyria are enemies. They want nothing to do with each other. They don’t trust each other. They are constantly wary of each other, and on the lookout for an invasion.
God sends Jonah into enemy territory, to give them the warning to repent or be annihilated. In comparison, we could say that God sent Jonah to Pyongyang, North Korea. Knowing what we know about the way Americans are treated in North Korea, would you be willing to go there to tell the people that God wants them to repent? Would Kim Jong Un listen to you? Would he repent?
Surprisingly, the people of Nineveh respond to Jonah’s message by repenting. And Jonah doesn’t like it one bit! He is so angry and resentful that he wishes he could die. Why? Because when they repent, Jonah sees that God cares as much about his enemies as about him. He resents that God has made the Ninevites equal to him.
God’s response to Jonah’s anger is to tell Jonah that it is God’s right to be as concerned about the people and animals of Nineveh as God is about the people and animals of Israel. Don’t you know I care just as much about them as I do about you?
… One day, our women’s Circle at my home church was studying this story from Matthew. Maxine started us off by saying, I don’t understand this story. It’s just not fair! … That is our usual first response to this parable. It’s not fair!
We usually identify most with the workers who spent all day working in the hot sun. They are tired and thirsty and hungry. They want their pay so they can go home to their families. We know what that feels like.
We tend to either ignore or think badly about the workers who work shorter hours. Lazy, no-account bums. We think, there must be something about them, their clothes, their hair, the sad look in their faces, that says, they are crummy workers. They don’t look like they will work hard. That’s why they don’t get hired until later in the day. We blame them, instead of blaming the manager who could have hired them.
At the end of the day, those who worked less get paid first. They get the usual day’s wage. Let’s make it $100, just to simplify the math. Those who worked longer start thinking, Hey, if they got paid that much for just a couple of hours, we should get two or three or four times that. They are thinking, $200, or $300, or even $400. They are already planning on steak and lobster instead of macaroni and cheese. When they look at their pay, they are stunned. It’s not fair! They got the same as we got. You have made them equal to us!
God says, Why are you jealous? Are you angry about what I choose to do with what I have?
Here is a way to make this story seem more fair. When we look at the various workers through God’s eyes, we notice that they all have families. They all showed up at an early hour hoping to get a day’s work and a day’s pay. Waiting around all day hoping someone will hire them is just as stressful as working all day, maybe more so. If they don’t work, how will they eat? How will they feed their families?
God wants everyone to have enough. God indeed intends to make Them, whoever the Them is, equal to US, whoever the US is. God wants all people to have enough to eat, clothes to wear, a home, meaningful work. God wants this, even if it means those who have more need to give up some of what they have so all can have some.
… Identifying them as different from us is built into our DNA. It is designed to keep us safe from predators and human enemies.
But, we take it farther. We constantly create comparisons between ourselves and others. If people wear department store or designer clothes, drive old Fords or new Ferraris, vote Republican or Democrat or Independent, we identify them as different from us. If we have different skin color, or different food preferences, or different abilities than we do, they are different from us. We feel better than them, or … we feel intimidated or scared by them.
… The point of the story of Jonah is to say that God loves all people, even our enemies.
Jesus’ goal in telling this parable is to say that in God’s eyes and heart, no one is more important. No one person is better than another. No one person is worse than another. God’s grace is for all, no exceptions.
So, I invite you to think about this: Focus on sharing God’s love one with one another instead of comparing ourselves, one against the other. It’s time to remember that God’s grace goes even where we don’t want it to.
Who are the Ninevites in your life? … In other words, who do you think is not worthy of God’s love? Or at least, who is less deserving of it than you are? Now, imagine giving them God’s love, God’s grace. How do they feel? How do you feel as you give it?
Please pray with me. Lord, we thank you for loving us. And we try to thank you for loving them, but it’s not always easy. Help us remember that your ways are not always our ways, and that our ways are not always your ways. Lead us to be grace-ful in all that we do. Amen