Worshipping at a Distance 20 September 2020

“Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all . . .”

Rev Dr Katherine Priode Meyer – Matthew 20:1-16

Matthew 20.1-16
“These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us (20.12a).”
And that’s what lights the match. Not that they haven’t been given what was agreed. But that what they have received now appears to them to be too little. It’s their perception that changes. And a wage they had seen up until that moment as just, no longer seems just at all, in comparison –and this is the heart of the matter –in comparison to what the others have received.

All of a sudden, but very subtly, their real perception of what is just has been revealed. At the start, a just wage seemed to mean a contract for a living wage, honoured by the employer. And that is what they received.

Now, however, just, in their eyes, clearly means something else. Now, it has to do not only with what they receive but with what others receive. And for others to be made equal to them is an injustice.

And so the landowner, choosing to deal not with a grumbling crowd but with a human being, pulls one of them aside. Look, he says, I’ve done you no wrong. I paid you a just wage, as agreed. Take responsibility for yourself and what is yours, and go.

Because that’s what I’ve done. Taken responsibility for myself and what is mine. Is that not allowed? Or –and here the truth finally lands –or are you envious? Does my generosity reveal to you your envy?

Envy, after all, is complicated. It’s not so much simply wanting what someone else has. It’s the feeling you get when what someone else has reflects back to you what you experience as a lack or an impoverishment in yourself.

And so if the generosity of the landowner makes the first-hour workers envious, it’s not really because they were not paid more. It’s because that generosity reflects back to them their own buried envy: not a fear that they will not have enough, but a fear that they are not enough. And that kind of envy, that kind of comparison, is wasted time.

The wonderful writer Anne Lamott tells the story of going shopping for clothes with a friend of hers who was living with terminal cancer. At one point, Anne tried something on, and then turned to her friend and asked: Does my butt look big in this?

Her friend looked at her with kindness, and said: Honey, I don’t think you have that kind of time.

That’s the voice of the landowner speaking. Folks, you really don’t have that kind of time. God is generous, and what you receive will be enough.

The kingdom of heaven, in other words, is like a landowner who, because he has, sees what others need, and uses what he has to bend the world toward justice. And the
kingdom of heaven is also like those who are no longer counting, and no longer compare themselves to anyone. Who doesn’t have that kind of time, because what they have is enough, and it is a life to be lived, while they can.

And to God alone be the glory.

Katherine P Meyer – Christ Church, Sandymount 20 September 2020