Matt 20:15 “Do you begrudge my generosity?.”
What extraordinary readings this morning!
The Gospel from (Matthew 20) seems a highly impractical story of labourers all getting paid the same – no matter how many hours they work.
In the Epistle (Philippians 1) Saint Paul is in prison – and isn’t quite sure if the best way to glorify God is by martyrdom in Rome or going to the church at Philip. I know which one I would choose!
And the first reading (Jonah 4) – what’s that all about?
All of us know the story of Jonah and the whale, but not this less familiar part of the story that follows.
You remember that Jonah was reluctant to go to Niniveh and preach to the Assyrians. This was for two reasons:
- You can imagine the reception a Jewish prophet would get telling Assyrians they were terrible sinners, and that if they didn’t repent his God, Yahweh, was going to destroy their city!
- As a good Jew he probably didn’t believe their city should be saved anyway.
You know the story… God commanded him to go to Niniveh – and he ran away to sea. But a storm came (sent by God, of course) he was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a whale (also sent by God!) after three days he was thrown up on the shore, and immediately went to Niniveh to do what God wanted. They did repent, and their city was saved.
That’s where today’s reading takes up the story. Now most prophets would be pleased about that. But not Jonah!
No – he doesn’t think the Assyrians deserve their city to be saved. They are not God’s chosen people – why should He care about them?
You see Jonah was mean. And because he didn’t get what he really wanted he went off and sulked – hoping that Niniveh would be destroyed. God was not impressed!
My Gospel text surely applies to Jonah: “Do you begrudge my generosity?”
The God who demands repentance also demands charitableness. To teach this lesson to Jonah, God causes a castor oil plant to grow and shelter him from the extreme heat. Jonah is not so bitter now! But the next morning a worm eats the plant and it dies.
Here’s the point: Destruction came not upon Niniveh, as Jonah wanted, but upon something that has become precious to Jonah. Jonah is given a taste of destruction – and it’s not nice.
Unfortunately he doesn’t see the parallel between Niniveh and the castor oil plant.
Jonah can be compassionate towards a plant that lasts but a day, but he does not want God to be compassionate to Niniveh – even though his preaching led them to repentance.
Such cold-hearted meanness is not uncommon.
Maybe the lesson is not about extremes – as also in the Gospel parable today.
In 21st century America you dare not pay workers the same if they work eight hours or one hour – our society couldn’t operate like that.
Jesus tells this parable about the labourers to teach us that God is generous. When the householder says: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” It is the same thing as God producing the castor oil tree one day – and then sending a worm to eat it the next morning.
Of course God is really not someone who gives and takes away according to our standards.
Both stories are a stark reminder to us that God has been so generous to us that we should be generous too. The deeper message is surely that we should not prefer the ways of this world to the ways of God. Should not prefer the things of this world to things of God. As the collect for this morning says: “…not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly…”.
Our Lord spoke of this many times, he said: “My kingdom is not of this world”.
Saint Paul also wrote of the same theme: “Do not be conformed to this world”.
A particular example occurs in an obscure passage in 2 Timothy 4. As Saint Paul finishes his letter, he sends greetings to various people. And then he says this: “Demas – in love with this present world – has deserted me and gone to Thessalonika”.
Now Demas had been one of Paul’s band. Iin Colossians 4:14 there is a reference to “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas”.
They travelled to Rome with Paul. But now Demas has left……because he loved the world more.
We never hear about him again. No doubt he had a great time in Thessalonika!!
Just think: if he had not, he could have become Saint Demas – maybe even had an Epistle named after him!
The warnings for Demas and Jonah are still relevant. Even the disciples of Jesus can fall away.
How can we avoid this??
By remembering that we are to be generous because our God is generous. So generous that he sent his Son to take away our sins when we fall away.
Finally I end with words from our Psalm this morning, Psalm 145. 2:
“Every day will I give thanks unto thee, and praise thy name forever”.