God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your love: grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Lord God, defend your Church from all false teaching and give to your people knowledge of your truth, that we may enjoy eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
1 O give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name; •
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises, •
and tell of all his marvellous works.
3 Rejoice in the praise of his holy name; •
let the hearts of them rejoice who seek the Lord.
4 Seek the Lord and his strength; •
seek his face continually.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, •
his wonders and the judgements of his mouth,
6 O seed of Abraham his servant, •
O children of Jacob his chosen.
37 Then he brought them out with silver and gold; •
there was not one among their tribes that stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad at their departing, •
for a dread of them had fallen upon them.
39 He spread out a cloud for a covering •
and a fire to light up the night.
40 They asked and he brought them quails; •
he satisfied them with the bread of heaven.
41 He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out •
and ran in the dry places like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy word •
and Abraham, his servant.
43 So he brought forth his people with joy, •
his chosen ones with singing.
44 He gave them the lands of the nations •
and they took possession of the fruit of their toil,
45 That they might keep his statutes •
and faithfully observe his laws.
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
‘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.’
Sermon on Fifteenth Sunday of Trinity
The parable we read this morning is an extraordinary story, isn’t it? Here Jesus is telling us about the gift of the Kingdom of Heaven. However, he tells it in the guise of a business model. Imagine if our businesses, or even our government, were run along such lines! What a very different life everyone would have.
The disasters in India, Burma, the Carribean and the southern United States make me pause and wonder at my own selfishness, which is not unlike the workers who signed up first on that day. Why should someone who has only worked an hour be entitled to the same reward as I am? This is not an uncommon complaint everywhere. Imagine your children, or even yourself as a child – didn’t you whine a little bit when your sibling got the same thing for just being around which you were given for the chores you finished?
Even when we grow up, we have the same expectations. The apprentice is being paid an awful lot of money compared to the master craftsman. But then there is the disparity also – women being paid a quarter of what a man is for the same job, children being forced to work, the list of injustice in the workplace is enormous.
Jesus tells us of a man who has looked the worker in the eye and said “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” Isn’t this the way we should deal with everyone? Isn’t it just that people are paid “whatever is right”? This is a completely different way of treating people than our present economy works.
However, the problem arises when a third person enters the situation. Then there is a judgement being made on the “contract” between the labourer and the landowner (or whoever it is in the relationship). This judgement is the field of ethics according to the philosopher who tells us, Here we start from the appearance of the other, “from the responsibility for the other that justice appears, which calls for judgement and comparison, a comparison of what is in principle incomparable,” the individual human being.
This is not so very different from the story Jesus tells us, is it? Comparison is made, isn’t it? “I am worth more than that lazy wretch who appeared only at the last hour. I am worth more because of all my labour during the day.” Don’t we say this as well today? “I am the Managing Director so I should receive all the profits.” Or “I am a graduate so I should be paid a lot of money right from the beginning.” This sense of self-worth permeates the whole of society, and not just in this country. The world thinks thus, or so “they” say. But do we think this in the depths of our hearts when we look into the eyes of the person in front of us?
In our most honest moments, I am sure we value that person staring us in the eye just as we value ourselves. This is the basis of the golden rule – you know that standard of behaviour which no one talks about nowadays, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” The golden rule is the standard for judgement when that third person enters the room.
Why does the philosopher say that the third person is the basis for ethics? Surely, we need not have a code outside of ourselves. We are moral in and of ourselves, aren’t we? Or have we degenerated into the mass of humanity which does not think for itself but only obeys the herd instinct?
These are very deep questions – they are crucial questions for life – all of which arise because this parable. Why does the landowner want to be generous when all the crowd expects is greed and miserliness as the standard of behaviour? That is precisely the point of the parable – the Kingdom of Heaven is unlike anything we normally come across.
However, the parable also points to something else – that such behaviour is possible, such an experience, even if it is so very different from everything we normally undergo, is still possible. It is possible that our employer will pay us all what we need to live. Imagine that – generosity in the workplace, the social gospel put into practice!
Who would complain then? When we treat each other with that christian charity – love without concupiscence, as the philosopher puts it – when we treat each other righteously, then the beginning of the Kingdom will be very close, as the evangelist tells us.
Jesus’ message to each and every one of us, is life without complaint. Who can live this life? The philosopher I have been reading suggests that the prophets live this life. What happened to the true prophets, they are beaten and degraded because they stand for justice which is based on a divine and loving mercy. The prophet confronts the king who accepts his opposition in the name of God. The true prophets never flatter, rather they seek only justice, and the king knows this is the prophet’s role. The prophet brings the third into the conversation with the king. The prophet introduces God into a world devoid of conscience.
The Kingdom of God is a very different place to the everyday world of twenty-first century schizoid man. Rather than accepting wretched treatment of anyone, whether it is in the workplace or the playground or at the pub, everyone judges every other person as valuable as him- or her- self. The judgement of the ethical is based on the third person, because the first two can look into each others’ eyes and see truth, beauty and love. When the third person comes along, that gaze is interrupted. The third person requires the moral attitude, a true judgement of the good.
The prophet does the same with the king. The prophet speaks with the king in the name of God. No one can overturn anything the prophet says. Jesus is our prophet. Jesus should speak to the king of our time. When that happens, when people stop complaining that the church is involved in politics, then the moral, the ethical, will become the new normal, when the Kingdom of God approaches each and every one of us.