9.17.2008

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 16: 2 – 15
Psalm 105: 1 – 6; 37 – 45
Philippians 1: 21 – 30
Matthew 20: 1 – 16

I can't get no satisfaction...

When we join up with the Israelites this week, they are grouchy, hungry, scared and just convinced that they have been led astray. They are nagging Moses and Aaron. They even suggest that maybe it would have been better to stay in Egypt. At least there they had food, even as they sat in the shadow and under the whip of Pharaoh. Yahweh tells Moses that he'll handle it. It seems Yahweh intends to test them...to see if they will follow directions. Moses and Aaron remind the Israelites that their complaining is not against them...it is against the Lord. Just as their safe passage to this point is not because of Moses and Aaron, but instead, because of the Lord. To make a point, Yahweh even appears (the glory of the Lord) in a cloud. Aaron delivers Yahweh's direction, and in the evening, quail cover the camp, and in the morning, manna covers the ground. If you read on through the chapter, you'll find that the Israelites are given very specific instructions, and that no matter how much or how little they collect, each has enough. It's amazing really – in spite of their muttering and grumbling, Yahweh gives them what they need.

The selections from the Psalm offers thanksgiving for Yahweh's provision for the children of Abraham and Jacob. It celebrations the amazing course of events that have shaped the lives of the Israelites. Remember that it is believed that the Psalms were gathered and recorded during the Jewish diaspora that followed the fall of the Temple. In retrospect, in an effort to "rally the troops" who were scattered by persecution, this hymn of thanksgiving gathers together the high and low points of history and sculpts them into an epic tale with God as the hero.

Paul's letter to the church at Phillipi was written from prison. He seems to be balancing the hardship of being persecuted with the joy of knowing that people are learning and sharing and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. It seems as though he knows that an option for him is death, and in that option he would find comfort; but he also knows that his time on earth is for the good of the growing church. His hardships are resulting in change – in new communities and new believers. He encourages this community to live "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" and to be strong in the face of opposition. At the end of all of that there will be reward. Somehow gain comes only with struggle.

Jesus' teaching through parables continues in Matthew. Jesus tells another parable about the kingdom of heaven, comparing it to the landowner who sets out to hire vineyard workers at several times during the day. At the end of the day, regardless of the length of time each worked, they all receive the same reward. This creates a little stir among the workers, who fail to see the justice in that (and who seem to expect to change something with their grumbling). Instead, the landowner affirms his right to choose what he will do with his money, and he chooses to be generous with those who have worked less. "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

Do these stories stir your sense of justice in any way? It seems that we have a pretty keen sense of what is right or wrong when it pertains to us. But is our judgment solid? God was responsive to whiny, sulky Israelites in the wilderness. Was it because they were whiny, or because they had needs? (Hmm. We are so reminded of parenthood here...the hungry toddler who is beyond reasoning...a handful of cheerios and a glass of milk works far better than a time out at that point.) Paul seems caught up in a related but different question. He knows that his life is unpleasant on earth doing the hard work of teaching and preaching and healing. He's knocked around and threatened and imprisoned. And he knows deep in his soul that in death he will find great peace in Christ. But he can't just walk away from his work among the people. He can't give into his own "murmuring." In the parable of the landowner and the vineyard workers, the workers have a deep sense that those who work harder deserve more. And the landowner, giving out of his abundance, chooses to treat each worker equally.

It seems to come back to perspective again.

Can one person's complaining be another's heartfelt prayer?
Does God "test" us to see if we are honest and true?
Is my feeling of being treated unfairly necessarily mean I have been treated unfairly? Conversely, does justice / equality for all necessarily mean justice and equality for each individual?
What is each of our responsibility to respond when we feel we have been wronged by another or by God? Complain? Listen? Accept? Something else???

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted
there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer.
let it be.

Let It Be, Paul McCartney

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