Thought for the Week: 20th September 2020

Our thought this Sunday is by Peter Sheasby.

It's not fair!

The gospel reading this week is the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1–16). Jesus tells the story of the owner of the vineyard who hires workers at various times, but at the end of the day pays them all the same, regardless of how long they have worked.

Following on from last week’s reading about the unforgiving servant, this week’s parable also makes us think about fairness and judgement. You can imagine the reaction of the crowd, ‘that’s not fair’, ‘I would have objected’, what was that boss thinking?’ They might even have been in a similar situation, hired at the marketplace, expecting a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, and felt cheated by a corrupt master. You only need to look at some of the sharp practices by today’s employers, such as not paying if someone is too long in the toilet, or only paying a carer for the hours when in someone’s home and not for travelling between.

The so-called “Gig economy” is nothing new. But, of course, this is not a trades union matter, the Kingdom of heaven is not about capitalism or communism or just fair trade, it is about God and our relationship with God. What does God owe us or, perhaps a better question is what have we done to deserve what God has given us?

One of the enduring images for me after Lockdown was a vox pop interview with people at an airport going on holiday. A young woman was very affronted that their holiday cold be cut short by restrictions and quarantine on her return and uttered the words which have stuck in my mind “after all, we are entitled to a holiday”! (My emphasis). It can seem, in the modern day, that we have become a society that regards entitlement as the foremost factor in any discussion. We frequently hear comments about “my rights”, seemingly without ever considering what it costs others for those rights to be regarded. Human Rights are of supreme importance and the UN Declaration which includes 30 articles on such matters are freedom, equality, fair trial, asylum, marriage and family, democracy and freedom of expression, are things we often take for granted but are sadly lacking in many other countries. But even these, often based on our Christian understanding of being people under God, have responsibilities alongside our rights. We not only claim them for ourselves but must try and ensure they are shared and enjoyed by others.

So what are we entitled to under God? By our own endeavours very little. We may say our prayers, read the Bible, go to church every week, give to charity and love our neighbours, but that doesn’t entitle us to special treatment. Such actions are consequent on the love and mercy we recognise God has shown to us. “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God turns everything upside down: And Jesus concluded, "So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last." Last week we remembered that our forgiveness came at the cost of Jesus’ life. This week we remember that all we have is given by the grace of God, which we receive by our faith not our works (Romans 4 v4-5). God is manifestly ‘unfair’, because God offers salvation through Jesus to everyone, every sinner, regardless of people’s works. All you need is faith, to respond to the call to serve, and you will be rewarded. A day, a year or a whole life of discipleship makes no difference to God’s mercy. Our reward will be the same, no special favours, no bonuses, equal pay for everyone.

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve You as I should. To give and not to count the cost. To fight and not to heed the wounds. To toil and not to seek for rest. To labour and ask not for reward, save that of knowing that I do Your most holy will. Amen