Letters Reflections

Letter to parishioners, 18 September 2020

Friday, 18 September 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

A few weeks ago I wrote about the parable of the sower and its meaning in the context of the Church in our contemporary world. That letter generated a significant number of responses on the subject of agricultural economics. Whilst it was interesting to read the very different opinions that were offered, agricultural economics was not the issue I was considering, just as Jesus wasn’t when he first told his parable. This week’s gospel reading could produce just as big a red herring if we are not careful.  This week we are invited to reflect on the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. In case you cannot immediately recall the story, this parable tells of the landowner who hired different groups of workers, at different times of the day, to work in his vineyard. At the end of the day, when they lined up to collect their wages, everyone was paid the same, irrespective of how many hours they had worked. As I am sure you can imagine, this parable sparks many conversations on the subject of fairness.  But … this parable is not about industrial relations in the twenty-first century, and neither is it a political manifesto.  This parable is about generosity, pure and simple.

The message of this week’s gospel reading (Matthew 20:1-16) lies in its opening words: The kingdom of heaven is like …  In these words, Jesus is making clear what we should really be focussing on. In my experience of preaching on this gospel, I am used to watching people become increasingly uncomfortable and even angry as the reality of the situation dawns on them. Those who worked only one hour received the same pay as those who had been working all day. People’s sense of natural justice is offended. But, the second those emotions begin to come to the fore, the point of this parable is lost. The landowner represents God. The landowner does not renege on anything; he agreed the pay with the workers before the job began and he paid what he promised. What is there to get angry about? Or is it a sense of jealousy and self-importance that is really manifesting itself?

As Christians we are called to work in the name of Christ throughout our lives. We are called to ‘infect’ others with the Christian virtues of love and service. In fact, as I heard it put by someone this week, it is the Christian’s duty to make sure that their personal R number is much higher than 1! We should be spreading Christianity as though it were the most virulent of pandemics. As we pass the message and the faith to others we are working towards the moment when we will receive our reward in heaven. That reward is undeserved and yet it is promised. God has promised us eternal life in his nearer presence. Surely, none of us can imagine any greater reward than that; there is no bonus that can be added to such a wage. Some of us will have been working in the Christian mission field for many, many years while others may only have found their faith this morning. It doesn’t matter where you are on that spectrum, the reward promised by God remains the same: eternal life in his nearer presence. There is nothing greater to be earned.

So, let us not be distracted by the trivial and the irrelevant (that is surely a big message for living through our current times!), rather let us focus on the love and generosity of God, the God who has promised us the biggest pay packet ever, even though we all fall short of deserving it.

With every blessing,

Revd Stephen