A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The parable of the generous landowner that Jesus told is disturbing and unnerving. The purpose of the parables is to dismantle the world we live in and show us a new world. They are turning our conventional world upside down and showing us the way God operates.  

According to our world, the people who work hard and work long hours deserve more pay. Commonsensical, isn’t it? Our first response to the generous landowner is ‘Not Fair’.

Even Jin Bao Bao, my daughter, 3 years old, has developed a very keen sense of justice. Many other virtues she doesn’t understand yet, but for some reason, she understands justice very well. How often she says to Wei and me: ‘It’s just not fair. I am not tired. Why do I need to go to bed but you are having fun?’

Listen to how the landowner explains what he is about. ‘Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage. Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? To give this last one the same as you? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Ok, that is the explanation. But are we really satisfied with it? Many people who hear this story will say: ‘Oh, yes, that makes sense’. No. There is still in us a nagging sense, a little child in us, saying it is still not fair. 

Well, this is always the point of the parable. Ok, a shift has happened. The prophet Isaiah says: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s ways, our way, God’s thinking, our thinking don’t always coincide.

This morning I want to give you two perspectives on this story. Go back to the example of my daughter. She often finds the way my wife and I treat her unfairly. She cannot see why we don’t satisfy her demands. She cannot see why she is not allowed to watch Peppa Pig on the iPad all day long. She cannot see why we refuse to celebrate her birthday every day. From her perspective, she sees what we are up to, but it makes no sense to her. 

Why do the ways parents seem so unfair to children? Because the parents see and understand so much more, grasp so much more of the world. The children see a very narrow perspective. The perspective of their own needs and wants so on. There is a huge difference between the mind of my three year old daughter and the mind of adults:Wei and me. 

And now the difference between our minds and the mind of God. How do we see things? Truly enough and accurately enough? Yes, sure. But still from a very narrow perspective. It is only when we see creation from the vantage point of God,  then we can see how all the darks and lights have arranged themselves into a great pattern. 

You see how Jesus is using this story now to show up a new perspective. Do We understand all of the implications and applications and consequences of things? No, we don’t. But God does. And so God’s ways can be seen as unjust to us because they correspond to a much higher justice. Given the limited capacity of our minds, God could not even begin to explain it to us. So brothers and sisters in Christ, trust, trust. Trust that God’s way is just, even when it doesn’t seem that way. 

Go back to the parable for a second with this in mind. So, these men worked for 8 hours, others worked for 1 hour. What if the landowner saw something that those first workers didn’t see? What if he saw in his compassion they had spent a terrible day. These men waited all day long. They needed to feed their families. They waited out under hot sun and there was no one hire them. Think of their anxieties and think of their fear and think of the sense of failure. So yes, they only worked for an hour. Maybe the landowner is rewarding them for a very difficult day.

Here is now the second perspective. Subconsciously we are very susceptible to a reward-centred understanding of our relationship to God. If I do what God tells me and then I will be rewarded by God. If I follow the commandments and live the way Jesus wants me to live, I will be blessed. Is that always the case? Hardly. 

One more analogy. I remembered when I was a kid, I was no interest in sports at all. I was addicted to junk food and TV. My mother often praised me, ‘Good job’, ‘I am proud of you’ after I started to play pingpong. Sometimes she bought me an ice cream to reward me after I had a good game with my father. That’s the way my mother took me into difficult tasks through a reward system. 

It might have been a tragedy. If I had not grown out of the reward system, I was’t playing the game for the sheer fun of it, the joy of it, and excitement of it, I would have been caught in this reward system. 

The whole point of the rewards my mother gave me was to get me to love the game. I deeply thank my mother. Now I play tennis every day. I often go cycling and hiking. I love sports. To love the game for its own sake, that is what matters. Whether I get ice-cream afterwards or not, is a matter of indifference. Enjoy the sheer exuberance of playing. 

Now, now, the spiritual life is same thing.  Friendship with God. Do we get people especially kids into this maybe through a reward system? Yes, sure. I just told my daughter this morning. Be a good girl, say your prayers, go to church, behave well at the Sunday school, do this, do that, I will reward you. This is fine, for little kids as a way of drawing them in. 

But how tragic it would be if we get caught up for the rest of our lives in the same childish reward system. If I go to Sunday Eucharist, I expect a reward from God, if I pray I expect good things to happen to me. It doesn’t work that way. No, it is the sheer exuberance of the friendship itself that is its own reward. Whatever good and bad things happen around us, that is inconsequential. Not important. What matters is playing the game, what matters is the friendship with God. So, these people were paid the same as those who worked 8 hours but they worked for only one hour, Who cares? The point here it is the work itself is its own reward. That we were given the opportunity to work in the vineyard of the Lord. Yes, all day long. What a great joy and privilege to be with the Lord in the vineyard all day long. That’s what matters. Amen.