15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:15-16
These are the last words of Jesus after he told a parable about a landowner who hired people to work in his vineyard at the beginning of the day, at 9:00, at noon, at 3:00 and at 5:00. Then at the end of the day he paid them all the same. The workers who had worked only one hour was paid the same as the workers who were hired in the early morning, and those hired at other times throughout the day were paid the same wages too. This undoubtedly seems unfair that some who worked a full day did not receive more than those who worked fewer hours.
As I read this I thought of a friend who has sever back pain and needed a supportive chair to sit in. She had given her recliner to some college students who were moving into a rental house together and had no furniture. So she then went out to buy a supportive recliner to replace the one she had given away. She purchased one and then was told it would not arrive for a month. She painfully waited and at the end of the time was told it would be another month before it would come.
The next day a friend of hers, who had purchased the contents of a storage rental from an elderly man who was moving out of the community, called her and asked her to come look at a recliner that was part of the storage unit contents. She went and discovered it was exactly like the chair she had ordered. It was in perfectly new condition, with the store tag still on it, and they sold her the chair for less than 80% of what she had paid for the same chair at the furniture store. She was able to cancel the order from the furniture store with a full refund. The chair she received was basically a gift. Did she deserve it? No, no more than anyone else who may have paid a much higher price for it in the garage sale. It was not a matter of what she deserved based on human fairness or human justice. It was God’s grace being poured out on her by another loving Christian.
The idea of God’s justice is always combined with love. And God’s love has no measure. If I jump in the pool at the beginning of the day, I am no wetter than the one who jumped in just before it closes. The lavishness of God’s grace is not doled out based on the time we serve or how much we work in God’s kingdom. Jesus’ parable shows how we often think in our limited human understanding of fairness, but in God’s understanding of justice it is filled with his love and grace. In the final statement that Jesus makes to Peter: “the last shall be first and the first last”, Jesus is showing us that God reverses the world’s way of ordering itself in concepts of love and justice. God’s love for the “least” in the world drives divine action to overturn the world’s way of doing business.
How do you tend to think of justice, in human or worldly terms or in God’s terms?
Have you ever received a gift you did not deserve? Have you ever given a gift to someone because of the compassion God has planted in your heart?
What does this parable say to you about the difference between God’s justice and worldly justice?
Walking With Jesus 80
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans: 13:8
In other words, if anyone has a proper expectation of us, like our monthly bills, house payment, car payment, etc; then we should pay them, but we will always owe love for one another. I don’t think that this was a platitude or a cliché that Paul was making. Paul was encouraging the Romans and us to live within our means,. pay our bills and let no debt stay outstanding except that we will always have a continuing debt of love that we owe our neighbors. We are to continue to give that love because it will always be outstanding. Just as God continues to love us, we are to love others, regardless of their attitude, their habits, or how they may mistreat us.
We have an obligation to love others that goes on and on. Our obligation to love is actually viewed by God as a debt that we owe. That’s an interesting concept: Don’t let your debts to anyone be outstanding except to love one another. Just as we receive ongoing love from God, as God’s agents we are to give ongoing love to “one another.” And, we are not to limit “one another” just to other Christians, but rather we are to extend God’s love to all with whom we come in contact—our neighbors in the broadest sense. The idea that “one another” extends beyond the Christian community is certainly in keeping with what Paul said in chapter 12, verses 12-14, “Extend hospitality to strangers. ”Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Repay no one evil for evil.”
When my husband and I started to really get our marriage smoothed out, we each began to think about the other person instead of ourselves (and it didn’t happen in year one,I might add). We still didn’t do it perfectly, but it was the beginning of a beautiful marriage. We had to grow into thinking of each other before we thought of ourselves, and it made all the difference in the world in our marriage. Sometimes when I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt that he had jumped all over me for something trivial—or what I thought was trivial, I would sit down and carefully evaluate what I would say to him to make him see how wrong he was so he would see his fault. I wanted to make him say he was sorry. And sometimes while I was doing this, I would hear the question pop into my head, “Who are you thinking about now?” And the obvious answer was: I was thinking about myself, not him. I was thinking about how he needed to make it right. Finally, I heard that question so many times that I relented to loving as I needed to love, as God had called me to love. Our arguing about who was right and who was wrong was only destroying the love that God had put in our hearts for each other, and it had to give way to loving beyond who was right and who was wrong. Like I said above, we still did not do it perfectly because we had to continue to learn how to love each other before we loved ourselves. Now I find that question works when I am about to accuse anyone else of not responding the way I think they should.
1. When a conflict comes up in a relationship do you ever ask yourself: “Who are you think about now?”
2. Can you think of a time when loving another seemed like something you owed but you were not ready to pay?
3. Can we love others who are different from us like God loves us?
Taking Up My Cross
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
I have come to understand more fully that ‘taking up my cross’ means genuinely living and dying each day. And the truth is that if I think of it otherwise I have already chosen to die. To not take up my cross is a death of true community, a death of truth itself, a death of meaning and the death of joy in all of its potential abundance.
I grew up on a farm in the 40’s and 50’s which was no doubt ‘prejudiced’ times, in today’s understanding, but I can’t recall racial hatred ever being a part of my parent’s attitudes or vocabulary. Each fall when it was time to harvest cotton, my Dad went into the nearby town to hire day laborers and haul them in our truck to our farm to work. They worked in the field all day, then he hauled them home at night. They were all African Americans. My Mom and I worked side by side with them picking cotton, and we got to know them personally. We learned from them and they learned from us. We prayed together over our sandwich meals and ate lunch together every day underneath a large tree in our back yard. When I was a preschooler I played with African American children, who lived not very far from our house, and I wondered when I went to school why I did not see them in school. And while it was true that my classmates in grade school were all white, which was before schools were integrated, I can’t recall any slurs being made by students or teachers against people of other races. Yet there was no question that black people in our community were treated as second class citizens.
I grew up in a congregation which was made up mostly of descendents of Northern Europe. I went to a private woman’s college and there were no African American students enrolled there either, and again I don’t remember students or teachers making slur remarks about other races. Yet African Americans were still treated as second class citizens. When I began teaching in college in the late 60’s, I had people of different races in my classes and some were African Americans. Today, I live in a racially diverse neighborhood and we have a friendly, caring neighborhood and all are treated the same. And even though our congregation has people of color in it, they are in the minority. So, I have had only a small amount of interaction with people whose skin color is different from my own and whose life experiences differ very much from my own, yet I never experienced the hatred that is being expressed in today’s treatment of people of color, or the peaceful demonstrations that turn into destructive acts that follow those events. I can’t identify with the hateful feelings and attitudes that bring violence against people of any color. So it is heartbreaking to see the hatred that is strangling communities of our nation today. Taking up the cross of understanding, loving and caring for others regardless of color, is what Jesus is all about.
Forgive me for taking you on my own personal journey of the pain we are experiencing today. And yet, for people of privilege, it is a journey we are all called to take. If you have experienced life as I have, perhaps you have also found yourself where I am. Even so, I am trying to understand what taking up this particular cross of caring and loving those who have historically been mistreated means for me. For now it seems I need to put myself intentionally in the presence of people whose lives look very different from my own, to listen and learn from them, to stand alongside and support them, and show up willing to be challenged to grow in new ways. If this means that part of me ‘dies’ in doing this then it will be worth it, but I expect there is a whole lot more dying that I must do.
• How do you hear Jesus’ invitation to ‘take up your cross and follow him’ in light of national and perhaps local racial tensions? What does it mean for you to carry your cross in racial matters today?
• If not related to the public or personal concerns of race, then how do Jesus’ words of taking up your cross speak to you today? How does Jesus’ invitation shape your living and
Lord God of all creation, may we be reminded that your deliverance in the resurrection of Jesus over our last enemy of death is assurance of life. Help us to be faithful in our daily walk with you, knowing that you are always in the process of bringing life to fulfillment. In the silence of our darkest hour may we feel your steadfast love that Jesus Christ brings to us. May we live this day with the hope of resurrection that swallows up death and darkness and brings light for our earthly journey. May your grace grow in us and through us to guide us this day. Thank you faithful God for the resurrected life you share with us and for the promise of your grace for a new day. Amen.
Dear Father in heaven, as your Son chose to suffer and die for the sins of the world, help us to understand that suffering is part of our lives as we walk with Jesus each day. Fill us with your Holy Spirit that we will boldly reach out to others who need to see Jesus in the midst of their suffering, their fear, their loneliness and disappointment. Fill us with the confidence of your love that as we face these days we are assured that you are with us, sharing in our pain and our sorrow. We pray, in the holy name of Jesus our Savior. Ame
God of hope, the reality of the pain and agony that people are experiencing during the aftermath of hurricane Laura and this COVID-19 crisis fills each day with more new cases, and deaths. Help us hold up the blessed hope of healing and restoration for all who suffer. We seek you O God, for support. Your Word tells us to “… wait upon the Lord and we will be renewed,” and so we wait and pray in hope of renewal in health and wellness, in hope for each of our communities that have been utterly destroyed in the hurricane, and in hope for safety and loving care for each other. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Gracious Father, your love for creation and the people of this earth bolsters my spirit as I long for the day when people’s lives are restored from hurricanes and there is a vaccine for the corona virus and this deadly disease is being controlled. Just as you surely wept over Jesus death on the cross, I know that you share the pain and sorrow that so many are experiencing in the aftermath of hurricane Laura and during this pandemic. Help us to grieve with them, pray for them, support and encourage them in their time of sorrow and assist them in their recovery after a storm. Fill us with your love so that we may share your grace and mercy with others. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Eternal and everlasting God, bring comfort and safety to all who were in the pathway of hurricane Laura. Protect them and strengthen them as they begin to pick up the pieces of their lives and deal with the clean-up. Show us how we can help them begin to heal and bring restoration to them. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior we pray. Amen.
Heavenly Father, lead us this day, to share your grace with others through virtual communication as we are separated physically from them. May we always celebrate the joy of being in your presence. Merciful God, make us instruments of your peace and grace this day. Stretch us beyond our own self-images and self interests to where you wait for us to reach out to others who are lonely with hope. Give us the wisdom and confidence to do your will so that others may live and grow in your grace. In the precious name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
Lord God, as this day begins we pray that you will guide our attitude to be grateful and joyful so that we do not allow fear or sadness to erode our faith. When we hear of those who have died with the corona virus, and when we hear the desperate needs of so many. Give us the courage to let our faith and trust in you drive our attitudes and behaviors so that we always rely on you to lead us through all the events of life. Give us the compassion of Christ Jesus who sought to bring healing to those who were hurting. In His name we pray, Amen.