By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 20:1-16
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Lest the disciples puff themselves up over what Jesus promised yesterday, he follows it with today’s parable. Everyone who comes to Jesus, early or late, putting in light or heavy work, gets the same reward. After all, what is there beyond heaven? Yet this cannot negate what Jesus said yesterday; nor is it an appealing prospect that in heaven we’re all somehow homogenized. No: God made individuals, and he’s going to preserve that multiplicatious goodness in the perfect good of heaven.
Heaven is heaven, but the happiness we experience there, the rewards we are given, are directly proportional to the sacrifices we make now — which just makes sense. By giving up things that hinder us from following Jesus, we’re making room in ourselves for more of his gifts.
Yesterday, Jesus gave an intimidating list of potential sacrifices: homes, lands, and even family members. But he’ll take little things: the twinge of grief you feel because they changed the words of a beloved hymn; the offering of patience with a child who can’t find what’s right in front of her; the helplessness you feel because your dishes are never done — God will lovingly take it all.
So you didn’t show up until the end of the day, and there’s only an hour left? Don’t waste that hour. If you wasted your youth, don’t waste the rest of your life; especially don’t waste the regrets about what might have been if you had known or chosen differently. If you wasted your whole life, you can still give God your death. Death is no small offering. Only God knows the weight of what you give him — no one else is allowed an opinion — and what is a light thing for one person might be hardly bearable to another. Only God knows the splendors he can work from even our smallest offering, so dare to give him everything.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Makurdi – The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral