Friday of Pentecost 17 – Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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 worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

I have friends who own and operate a vineyard and winery in Sonoma County, California, near Healdsburg. They had to flee from the fires which ravaged California. Their vineyards survived but there was a moment when they wondered if their business had burned to the ground? Will their venerable label pass out of existence? There is much to pray for in this world. I am sure you have your own list.

There is one thing I know, however. The love of God is completely separated from the economy of our lives. We cannot earn God’s love and we cannot put that love into a scale which corresponds to our situation. Like the workers in the vineyard I find it difficult to get my head around this truth. I would rather like to think that God has in fact seen my consistent worship, my tithing, my service on committees and in activities of the local parish and that this life should make a difference in my status in God’s eyes. He should notice that I am in church and all those folks who drive by on Sunday morning are not in church. That should make me a little bit more lovable to him. It does not work that way. God has seen those good things I do, and he has delighted in them. His love for me, however, is in no way dependent upon them. He loves the self-destructive heroin user who has not ever been in church as much as he loves me.

When we are getting steamrolled by the world, there is another side to this which can bring us comfort. The afflictions which we endure in this time are no sign that God loves us less. They may be warnings for this world to repent or simply his providential work, but they are not a measure of his love for us. There is only one measure of God’s love for his people – a cross and an empty tomb.

If life has hit you hard, as it has afflicted many, know that I and others are praying for you and God’s people are called upon to come together to help one another. Our prayers will be answered with very human instruments. Do not fear. God has never stopped loving you. I cannot promise how that love will play out in your life. I am no prophet that way. I can, however, assert with all confidence this truth. God loves you. He will never stop loving you. That is a forever promise.

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