Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2020
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
For your name’s sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who are they that fear the Lord?
He will teach them the way that they should choose.
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So, the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
A minister friend of mine in British Columbia celebrated her 50th birthday recently by having the word Enough tattooed on her forearm. I’m not sure of all the various things she may have meant by it, but I felt a pang of envy when I saw it. In this world of excesses and anxieties it seemed good to have a tangible reminder that enough is a wise motto – a reminder that for the most part we have enough, that we are enough, that what this day brings will be enough. A reminder that our strivings are often misplaced in a frantic uncertain time, and that perhaps we need to pause and be reassured. Our faith tells us that that the grace of God is enough.
Perhaps we also wouldn’t mind looking down at our tattoo, perhaps giving it a rub, on days when we feel we have had enough. Enough figuring out who is in your bubble, enough masks, enough glitches in ZOOM church, enough of everything covid has brought. Or enough reports of violence in the streets, enough police brutality, enough racially motivated ugliness. Enough polluted oceans, enough species lost, enough wildfires, enough hurricanes. Enough deaths.
Jesus’s parable about the workers in the vineyard asks the question of what is enough in both senses. No doubt the workers had had enough of waiting around in a system that hired some arbitrarily, leaving others without work. The fundamental injustice of it. Even the landowner seems to have had some desire to correct that by hiring everyone.
But then when it came time to pay, the question of what would be enough turned into a controversy of the other kind. Once everyone saw that the late hires had the full day’s wage, the early hires thought there would be a bonus for them. They had been happy with the original agreement, but now it was easy to see that the later hired made much more per hour – and that rankled. It seems that our sense of what is enough for us is inevitably based on what others have.
And apparently this is built in from a long way back. You may remember the experiment of the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal. He started with two monkeys and a pile of stones. In return for a stone, he gave each monkey a piece of cucumber, and the monkeys were quite happy. After a few rounds he changed it up – rewarded the second monkey with a grape. Then he went back to the first monkey and offered another piece of cucumber for the next stone. After a moment’s startled hesitation, and an intense stare at the grape-eating friend, the first monkey threw the cucumber away in disgust and offered another stone. Another piece of cucumber. No grape! Then the second monkey earned another grape. The cucumber monkey tried again, and still no grape. It was monkey outrage. It’s a very funny video. The monkeys obviously hadn’t read this parable. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meiU6TxysCg)
So, the reaction of the labourers is not surprising – they are just acting out of instinct. We do naturally look for fairness. What Jesus does is expand the context. Instead of simply comparing the number of hours worked, he asks them to recognize the larger context of justice for unhired workers and their needs. He reminds them that their good fortune is not damaged by the good fortune of others. And he turns their attention to the generosity that surrounds and sustains them all.
Jesus is calling his followers to see past justice for ourselves and take an interest in justice for others. To see where there is enough and give thanks – and then focus on what needs changing. To find the serenity to say I have enough, enough to eat, enough rights, enough opportunity, and the insight to say but others don’t, and we have had enough of that.
This week we have lost two tremendous, humble seekers of justice. Close to home Jim Kirkwood, and in a global spotlight Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both had the gift of seeing where justice was lacking, the perseverance to stay the course, and the capacity to inspire others to follow the same path.
May each of us find our own way to enough.
Both the enough of acceptance and faith that who you are is enough in God’s eyes. And the enough that makes you eager to work for changes in the world God loves. If you find yourself forgetting, just imagine you have the tattoo.
Image Credit: Jordan Rowland (unsplash.com)