the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 25 Canon Jim Irvine
Are you envious because I am generous?í  

"The Master asked. ĎAre you envious because I am generous?í" And Jesus added, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20: 15f.


Reward is an idea that we grasp at an early age.

Before we begin school, we learn that our effort and deeds will earn us rewards. Especially if they are good. Helping out in small things, we learn soon enough that we will not go unrewarded.

The rewards take a variety of forms. It might be a special treat, possibly a bottle of pop. A bottle of cold pop was a big reward when I was a boy! Later, as we become more familiar with money, we begin to expect a reward that carries purchase power we can exercise later, at our choice, and to our benefit. This might be seen first as an "allowance", and later, when we get to employment age, as a young adult it is expressed in terms of a pay cheque. I remember my first pay cheque: $7.50 from Dominion Stores for 10 hours of packing and carrying groceries to customersí cars!

The workers in the Vineyard were a lot like me when I worked for the grocery chain.

When the Master who owned the Vineyard went out early in the morning, he hired workers who agreed to the usual daily wage. They had a sense of their worth for the dayís effort. Their reward was known, and expected.

Later in the morning, about 9 oíclock, the Master hired additional workers, agreeing with them for whatever is right for a wage. They laboured the rest of the day.

About noon, and again at three, the Master did the same, and sent more workers to join the others in the Vineyard.

Again, about 5 oíclock, the Master went out and he noticed some other men who stood by, idle. He asked the why this was, and they said to him, "Because no one has hired us." He said to them, "You also go into the vineyard."

An hour later, the Master called the workers in from the Vineyard and settled with them. It must have surprised the workers hired only an hour before and who had been in the Vineyard such a short time to receive the customary full dayís wage. They received a reward indeed!

But, as the story plays out, we learn that those who worked 3 hours and those that worked 6 hours and even those who had been in the Vineyard from 9 oíclock all received the same wage. They received the same reward! And so, too, did those who had been in the Vineyard from the very beginning.

They were upset. Itís not that they quarrelled with the Masterís decision to pay those who came last a full dayís wage. Itís just that they expected more in their pay envelope, if that was the case.

"You made them equal to us," they declared to the Master.

The Master, sensing their hurt and anger, drew the net of the argument in and asked them, "Are you envious because I am generous?"

The parable challenges the natural order familiar to Jesusí listeners. They, too, would have echoed the surprise and dismay of the workers. It wasnít fair! Oh, it was agreed upon alright. But just the same it wasnít fair. Godís grace is like that. Like the Masterís pay, itís not a reward but the sustenance we need for the day! And Communion helps us understand Godís generosity and his graciousness.

Today, we approach the Sacrament and humbly kneel in feigned obeisance, expecting a reward. With an outstretched hand we look for God to touch us, as we need him to touch us, and discover grace! The Host, placed on the palm with words familiar of administration, elicits in acknowledgement, "Amen."

For some, we have worshiped here from the very beginning, since we were children. Others of us have come into the Vineyard later, but we draw close just the same, and kneel in expectation. Still others, who knew not the struggles of the past, of realignment and of restoration, are present and they are drawn by Jesusí invitation and come forward. And then there are those whose names we do not yet know, but whom God knows, pressing in and finding room to kneel beside us. Grace making us equal before God.

Jesusí only comment was this: the last will be first, and the first will be last. It holds true today, still.

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999