Feb 12th, The Economy of Love – Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Feb 12th: The Economy of Love – Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
I remember when my wife Laurie was so sick and was taken by life flight to Portland and where she remained in the ICU for over a month. Two friends drove over drove over 3 hours in a snowstorm to give me a hug. And then they got back into their car and they drove home again. They extended grace. That defied common sense.
And I remember when we returned home in June after, after over two months in Portland, I was mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted, not, not sure how was it going to be able to go back to work. A member of session met with me and said, you’ve devoted yourself to caring for Lori. Now it’s time to care for yourself and give yourself space to heal. We’ll see you in September.
This church extended grace and love to me. That was beyond reasonable when I needed it the most.
Grace. Amazing Grace. The amazing grace of God is an extravagant and beyond generous gift, freely given, which we don’t earn or frankly, necessarily deserve. All the time and grace received can heal you and change your whole worldview. I love the 19th century novel by Victor Hugo. Le Miserables. And there’s that, that amazing scene of grace when Jean Valjean’s worldview is completely turned upside down.
The criminal Jean Valjean has been freed and a kind priest takes him in, feeds him, gives him a bed to sleep in during the night. Valjean steals the silverware from the priest and runs away. The police catch him, throw him at the feet of the priest, waiting for the priest to tell them that Valjean stole the silver so they can throw him in prison where he belongs. Valjean knows he knows he’s guilty and knows he’s as good as dead. The priest does something that doesn’t make any sense and turns everyone’s expectations on their head.
The priest says, I gave Valjean the silverware. And then the priest hands two silver candlesticks to Valjean and says, you forgot to take these when you left.
This act of amazing grace, the kind of grace that just just doesn’t make sense in the world, not only transforms the bitterness in Valjean’s heart, it changes his whole way of seeing the world, changes the way he sees other people, changes the way he lives in the world.
Grace is subversive.
It’s a whole new mindset. Grace exists outside the way that we’re taught to think, to succeed, and to survive in this world. Yet at the same time, honestly, grace is what our hearts really long for.
Now, grace, by definition, is unfair.
The world generally operates according to a state of non grace. An eye for an eye. Pay what you owe or we’ll take your house. Give people health care according to their ability to pay for it. Prove your worth.
Prove you deserve forgiveness. Prove you’ve tried to help yourself before. You deserve compassion. Look after number one first. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Even when you don’t have boots, there are winners and there are losers. The deserving and the on deserving, the haves and the have nots.
Now, grace grace invites us into a different into a whole new way of being in the world a way of being in the world that defies common sense.
Jesus told a provocative and unsettling story about the radical nature of grace. Too much grace, really, Jesus told parables, because he was less concerned about teaching the correct beliefs than he was about stretching our imagination, challenging our understanding of the nature of God’s love. Jesus began this particular story, saying, the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner no by kingdom of heaven. Jesus is not talking about what happens after you die, as he’s saying, this is what the ways of God look like compared to the ways of the world. This is what it would look like if God was in charge.
This is what the economy of peace looks like, and it looks very different from what you might expect for what you might think is reasonable or fair. So here’s the story today, the story Jesus told about the grace of a generous landowner and some vineyard workers.
The Kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out very early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them out into the vineyard. And when he came out about 09:00, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace. And he said to them, you now go out into the vineyard and I will pay you what is right. So they went, and when he went out again about noon and then again at 03:00, he did the same.
And about 05:00, he went out and found others standing around. And he he said to them, why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing? And they said to him, Because no one has hired us. And he said to them, you also go into the vineyard. When evening came, the owner said to his manager, call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.
When those hired about 05:00 came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now, when the first came, they thought for sure, for sure that they would receive more.
But each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they they grumbled against the landowner, saying, these last workers, they worked only for 1 hour, and you’ve made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day in the scorching heat.
But he replied to them, friend, I am not being unfair to you. Did you not agree with me? For the usual daily wage, take what belongs to you and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?
Or are you envious because I’m generous?
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
It really doesn’t seem fair, does it? Those day laborers who worked all day in the scorching sun get paid the same as those who worked 1 hour. I mean, that’s not the American way. This parable makes people mad. It just isn’t fair.
Now, Jesus isn’t talking about labor laws as he’s talking about grace.
So much grace, so much grace that it’s hard to imagine, but really the kind of grace that changes everything. I mean, imagine a world where instead of being fixated on what each of us is able to get fixated on what we think we deserve, what we think we’re entitled to. Imagine instead a world where we’re centered on making sure everyone, especially the most vulnerable, everyone is cared for and has enough to flourish, even if it means a sacrifice to us.
Imagine a world where there’s a list of who gives the most rather than a list of who makes the most. Father Greg Boyle said, imagine a world where we stand in awe at the burden people have to carry rather than standing in judgment about how they carry it. Imagine imagine a world where there wasn’t winners and losers, but we played by different rules. The rule that no one really wins until everyone wins.
Now, in the story, it says everyone received the usual daily wage. It’s actually another way of saying that everyone received just enough. Everyone could go home and feed his or her family. I mean, Jesus taught us to pray. Give us this day our daily bread.
Give us this day just enough.
Those who are first to work, they focused on what they felt they deserved and what they felt entitled to. And when the late comers were paid the same, they cried out, hey, that’s not fair. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
What prevented them from celebrating with the late comers? What prevented them from being happy that they too they too now had enough to feed their family?
What prevented them from celebrating that they too they too were given their daily bread?
Jesus was asked, what’s the greatest commandment? And he said, love the Lord your God with out of your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
To love your neighbor means you’re not willing to accept for your neighbor and their family any less than you’d be willing to accept for yourself and your own family.
Now, just imagine if that was the ethic that guided our lives.
Put yourself in the shoes of the last group of laborers. Remitted. They were asked, why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?
They replied, Because no one has hired us.
We’re still here because nobody needs us. Nobody wants us. And when the landowner said, you also go to the vineyard. It wasn’t just about money. It was an affirmation of their worth, saying you are needed, you are valuable.
Apparently, the landowner cares more about the expendables, the left behind and the marginalized than he cares about his profit margin. Reading the story, I got the picture of the childhood trauma of the leftover kids on the baseball field that nobody wants, the kids that are always chosen last. Now, honestly, I was usually one of the first chosen because I wasn’t very fast, but I could hit the ball a really long ways. My best friend Tom was always one of the last ones chosen. He was tall and awkward and kind of uncoordinated, and he actually didn’t care at all about sports, but he really wanted to be included.
It was painful to watch the look on his face as all the kids were picked and Tom was the last one left.
The landowner in Jesus story cares about the Toms in the world. In fact, the ones who are overlooked, the ones who are left out and left behind are just as important to the landowner as the captains of the team.
A friend of mine who has a child with down syndrome really helped me hear this parable in a new way. She said, I really empathize with the ones the ones who waited in the sun all day. Yes, the ones worked in the sun all day, but also the ones in the marketplace who waited in the sun all day only to be passed over again and again. I’m guessing the boss chose the ones that looked the most able. And in the end, at 05:00, it was the smallest and the weakest who were left.
The ones who kind of perhaps didn’t fit in. Maybe the ones who spoke another language. Maybe the ones whose skin color was darker. Maybe the ones who were battling demons in their minds. Maybe the ones who were most hungry and most desperate.
Maybe the ones who are just different. Maybe the ones whose society doesn’t value.
Maybe they were the ones. Maybe they were the ones who were left standing alone. And my friend said, I’ve seen my own child time and time again I’ve seen my own child being left to wait until the next time.
Does anyone think there’s no effort expended in being left out? In being out in the city square every day, all day, waiting and hoping? Does anyone think that there’s something good about not being hired for the job?
There is work involved in keeping hope alive as you see time and time and time again that you’re not being chosen. There is work involved just to survive.
If you find yourself without the resources that others seem to have. Those workers, those workers who were waiting all day, they weren’t lazy or idle. They were expending enormous energy, trying not to cry, trying to keep hope alive.
If our focus is narrow thinking only of ourselves. Our natural reaction is how unfair the story is.
If we can see beyond ourselves, and if we can think about those who are left out and left behind, we might be astounded by the generosity and the grace in the story.
I was thinking about this story this past week, and I realized the best of my relationships the best of my relationships are based not so much on my wonderful attributes or how hard working I am or how entitled or deserving I think I am of someone else’s love.
The best of my relationships, honestly, are based on the generosity of others. Their patience, their acceptance, their forgiveness, the gift of grace they extend to me again and again, even when I haven’t earned it, and especially when I least deserve it.
Friends, we certainly can’t count on life to be fair. Life just isn’t fair.
But we can count on God’s amazing grace to be more generous than we can possibly imagine. And as we make space in our hearts and in our lives for that kind of grace and generosity, we may find ourselves living and loving in ways that just don’t make sense to the rest of the world.
And maybe that’s when the world will begin to change.
May it be so.