Pentecost 16, September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

St. John the Apostle

“Why are you standing around?”

I speak as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God through the mercy of God.  Amen.

Today Jesus tells us a story of the labourers in the vineyard.  We hear about the ones that the landowner hired in the morning for the work, and as we sit in the pews we tend to identify and to side with them.  We are just like Jesus’ first listeners- both his followers and the religious leaders.  It makes sense that those who are hired for a job agree upon a wage before they spend all day in the field.  Where our sense of natural justice gets assaulted is the next part.  The landowner then goes on to pick up more workers as the day progresses and adds them to the workforce.  And in the evening, when the pay is handed out, everyone gets the same.  That’s not fair.

It depends on our perspective.  For those who have slaved away from dawn til dusk, it doesn’t seem fair that we have been worked so hard and so long for this small sum, even though it is what we agreed to in the beginning.  It’s not just a matter of reward or righteousness.  We are tired, we have given our all, and there is so much work to do.  Why couldn’t the landowner have brought in the extra help a little earlier, and saved our aching backs?  Those who were first to be in the field resent those who didn’t have to work for such a long day not just because they got the same amount of money for a shorter shift, but because they were standing around.

But from the point of view of those who were still in the labour lineup in the marketplace, waiting to be hired, those who were already at work were the lucky ones.  They wanted a job to do.  So why are they standing around?  If we look at this parable as those who want to work but don’t have the opportunity, we get a sense of what Jesus is saying to us about God’s grace and justice.

Some people don’t appeal to employers. They may not have the connections with the company to get their foot in the door, or have the prior work experience or qualifications that meet some hiring standard.  They may not present as well in an interview because the way they dress or speak.  There are many people who would be assets to a workplace if given a chance, but if you are competing against others that speak English better or have Canadian degrees or have confidence and a glowing reference, the chances of being hired are diminished.  There are the doctors and scientists and teachers who have immigrated to Canada only to find that the jobs open to them are as taxi drivers or house cleaners.  Even though our society is in need of their specific skills, they start, at least, with work outside their field to feed their families.  These are the ones who are seen by those in authority as unskilled labourers in the marketplace.  Sometimes we do not discover what gifts a person brings to an organization or company because we never bother to ask what they can do.  We leave them on the margins and compl

There are also those who stand around because they do not hear of the work opportunities.  When we do not hear what is needed, and how we can help, it is difficult to offer.  And sometimes we are not very good at knowing what we need in the way of assistance, let alone advertising for it.  There are more jobs available than there are people to do them, and yet part of our population is unemployed and despairing of finding meaningful work.  This happens in the Church as well.  The tendency is for a few good people to do much of the work quietly and behind the scenes.   Others neither realize how many hours are being put in, nor understand what they might do to share the load.  Our other problem, especially as an organization, is to resent the people who come in “later in the day” to labour with us.  Well established patterns for getting things done might be challenged by different ways if a new person is allowed to join in.  It takes energy to explore alternatives rather than just dismiss the idea because “we’ve always done it that way”.  Whether it is a workplace or an organization like the Church, we have to decide that if we are to seek more workers, we have to be prepared to be changed by what they bring to the job.  Specifically, if we as a faith community are to share the good news about God, then who we invite into ministry will bring new talents and ways of being disciples.

And just like in the Scripture story, there are those who are left standing around because they have been judged not suitable for the job.  The landowner probably chose those labourers he saw as the fittest for the hard work in the vineyard.  But maybe when he came back to the marketplace a second and third time, he began to see other possibilities for the ones who were still there.  As a society, we value those who are young and strong and clever.  We are more hesitant to engage with those who have physical or mental challenges.  And we do not value the gifts our elders bring to our work in the way that we should.  Just because bodies slow down and minds get forgetful, it doesn’t mean that seniors should be set aside as useless to our common good.  A recent federal report on the status of the elderly in care facilities highlights the tendency to warehouse and forget those who have decades of experience and wisdom.  In the province of BC, seniors in assisted living received less than 3 hours a day of personal interactions with staff.  This means that for those elderly persons who have few friends or family members who visit, they spend more than 21 of 24 hours each day alone.  There is no one to help with personal needs or even to share a recollection or an insight.  As a society, how do we treat our elders?  We leave them standing around, waiting for someone to show an interest in their worth.

Jesus lays out that God’s love is not a finite resource.  God’s grace extends to all who are willing to join in, no matter what their fitness or prior experience.  There is room and a job for everyone.  The task of the Church is to invite and equip persons for ministry.  That means extending the labour pool.  Sometimes we bemoan that there are not enough people to do all the things we want to get done in the Church.  The answer is to get more help.  It may be late in the day, but there are still people out there who have not been invited.  Maybe we have missed asking them in the past because they don’t appeal as much to us.  Maybe we haven’t been too good about getting the word out that there is a place for them, and then when they come, actually making a place for them.  And maybe we have some work to do to discern the special gifts of those we thought were less suitable for what God was about.  The point is that God’s amazing and astonishing grace is to keep searching for those who are willing.  And God will show us how to be ready and able to help.  Nobody should be left just standing around.  Amen.