September 24, 2023
Daily Bread for Everyone
We all have a natural sense of justice, and of what is fair. We might easily conflate the two, but justice and fairness don’t always lead to the same end. Jesus’ parable of the landowner and the workers suggests that God’s sense of justice might not seem fair to everyone. Our ideas of what is right are likely upended by the landowner’s generosity. He gives to each worker not what they have earned but rather the “daily bread” they need.
Sometimes in the church’s ministry, we behave in a spirit exactly opposite that of the parable’s landowner, opting to be “fair” above all else. So, for example, the food pantry can insist on the same items in the same amount for everyone, or the soup kitchen rules dictate that everyone get the same thing on their tray. Yet everyone doesn’t always have the same needs. What if instead of fairness, we also made a way for generosity to sometimes disrupt the rules? There are good reasons for insisting on fairness. Rules establish helpful boundaries. Fairness can help ensure that when resources are scarce, everyone has a chance to receive something. Yet, in the name of fairness, we can also overlook both God’s abundant generosity and the actual needs of others.
Maybe Jesus’ parable doesn’t mean changing the rules altogether. But maybe it means leaving ample space for those situations in which emulating God’s generosity means bending the rules. God’s grace frees us from a stubborn insistence on “only what’s fair” so that we can care for others with generous spirits. No matter when we come to the baptismal waters, God’s word of grace is enough to cover our sins. No matter our circumstances when we are gathered at Christ’s table, God’s generosity means there is always enough for each and every one of us to receive the daily bread we need
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The Readings in the Bible
According to standard outlines of Matthew, the allegory of the laborers in the vineyard is in the fourth section (16:13—20:34), which focuses on preparation for the death and raising of Jesus, God’s Son. For Matthew, “heaven” is a circumlocution for God, and “the kingdom” refers to the eschatological end of all things, the way it will be in God. Today’s allegory, with the generous landowner being God and the laborers embodying the varying commitments of believers, makes the biblical point that in God all earthly values are reversed. Divine mercy is not fair. It is likely that by the time of the writing of Matthew’s gospel, contemporary church leaders were being negatively compared with ones closer to the time of Jesus, and the evangelist wishes to negate such criticism.
The book of Jonah is an ironic, even comic, short story about a prophet-like figure who begrudges preaching to Nineveh, the capital city of the ancient enemy nation of Assyria. Written after the exile and perhaps long after the destruction of Nineveh in 612 bce, the story contrasts with other biblical post-exilic writings, for example Ezra and Nehemiah, in that it urges Israel to move beyond its narrow religious and ethnic boundaries and to acknowledge that God’s mercy is meant for all peoples. Chapter 3 tells of Jonah’s finally preaching to his enemies and their conversion. Verse 10 leads then to chapter 4, which in short story fashion parallels chapter 1, with the disgruntled Jonah angered by God’s steadfast love for the enemy. The charming last sentence indicates that God cares also for the enemy’s animals.
Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi from prison, that, depending on which imprisonment, could have been in 53 or after 60. The letter is filled with Paul’s sense of joy in the faith of Christ and includes the beloved Christ Hymn of 2:5-11, which confesses what much later came to be termed the two natures of Christ: his humility as a human and his exaltation as Lord of all. Introducing one of the letter’s themes, today’s excerpt urges the community to live together in unity