READINGS: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
God has sent this card to us. It’s much richer than a Valentine’s Day card. It doesn’t say “be my valentine”. It does invite us to a relationship though!
A love relationship.
What kills off a love relationship? (Apart from not working on your relationship as you get older – not dating – not saying you love her – withholding favours – not taking showers – bad financial habits – all that mundane helpful or unhelpful stuff depending where you are here?) Unfaithfulness is sure to kill it off!
Having your heart in other places – whether it be things or people or inappropriate individuals! Idolatry – is to substitute something else for the one you love. If the greatest commandment is about loving God with all your heart, mind, strength – Jesus clearly had to model that too! The trinity is key – God is love and Father, Son and Holy Spirit are fully united and connected in love!
Jesus’ testing – these temptations – (there’s a debate about which word is best) – imagine what it would have done to his Father’s heart had he succumbed to the deception!!
We can’t think like that because we have this superhero view of Jesus – forgetting that he was fully man. These were real temptations.So we should not see them as a cartoon scene – devil with horns and Jesus like Captain America with a shield – or Thor with his hammer! This is real temptation! Nope. I can see you don’t really believe me.
In all the readings today – the tragedy is that people who knew better turned away from God (who was utterly faithful) and whored after other things.
It’s not my language. It’s bible language. Read the prophets. It’s called harlotry if you want a politer sounding word. A best unfaithfulness. In Deuteronomy 26 the people who were given the promised land were told to bring the first fruits of that land as an offering to the Lord.
More than that they were to declare who they were. They were to declare what God had done to rescue them. And together the community were to celebrate the giving of the offering of the first fruits of the land. And the process culminated in this wonderful line:
Deu 26:9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;
And the declaration: Deu 26:10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.
Deu 26:11 And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.
The “milk and honey” phrase is not about a perfect utopia. Milk means there were cows or sheep or goats – and that meant grass – and rain – and nurture. Honey meant bees, and flowers, and colour, and germination – and pollination! It’s a great declaration of a beautiful gift which mirrors the whole gift of creation.
How can you declare these things in worship and then walk out ungrateful, behave like a cad, (a rogue or scoundrel if you don’t know what a cad is) and be unfaithful to God by letting the side down?
That’s unfaithfulness. That’s idolatry. That’s succumbing to the temptation to make yourself more important than God and his faithful love.
The four verses from Romans 10 in the lectionary this week might also seem odd.
What are they doing here in Lent?
How do they relate?
Remember where they are in Romans – in the middle of Paul agonising over the Jewish people and their place – and the overall message of Romans that all have sinned.
Rom 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Rom 10:11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Rom 10:12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,
Rom 10:13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
- We won’t be put to shame if we trust in Him (Jews or Gentiles)
- He richly blesses all who call on him (Jews or Gentiles)
- How can you be unfaithful to this God?
And so we come to Luke 4 – the temptations of Jesus.
He has to be a real human being to be tempted like this. In the words of Tom Wright: “There is a sense in this story of a deep wrestling, a heart-searching, a personal struggle with the powerful pull of bodily appetites, ambition and prestige. Most of us know only a little of that struggle, because we tend to give up and give in, early on in the process. Jesus went all the way through the tests and still didn’t break.”
But he made it. Like us, he two depended on God’s grace and strength. It is only Luke who says this: Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,
He had to get through these tests on the mountain of temptation – so that on that grubby little hill called Golgotha (the place of the scull) he would see it through, knowing that he would be vindicated. How could He be unfaithful to the Father who loved him so? He was the beloved son! The chosen one. The only son. The voices from heaven had reminded him so clearly.
And he did it all for you. And for me. He was victorious here and on the cross – winning the battle for us. Because we don’t last the distance. Thankfully it’s all called Amazing Grace. Amen.
Reading: Matthew 20:1-16
It’s no surprise that the parable today is in direct response to our main character through the story. I wonder who that could be, you may be thinking. Why Peter, of course.
In the previous chapter is that challenging saying about the young man who turned away. The rich young ruler. Remember him? Listen again: Mat 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Mat 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Mat 19:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Mat 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Mat 19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
The bit at the end of Matthew 19 is for you to read at home. Especially verse 28 – I bet you’re surprised by that one.
At the end of Matthew 19 Jesus says to Peter: Mat 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Mat 19:30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
And then Chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Remember that there were no chapters at the beginning when the bible was written. Not even spaces between the letters of the early bible. So here we go then:
Mat 20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.
It’s addressed to people who have left everything to follow Jesus, and applies to every generation. Things are upside down in terms of this Kingdom. This is a unique parable about the Kingdom and God’s grace in the kingdom. It ends again with Mat 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
So let’s consider firstly what’s the parable is not about!
- It’s not about trade unions and fair wages. Elsewhere in scripture it’s very clear that workers are to be paid properly.
- It’s not about lazy people. There’s a temptation by those who have never been without anything, especially a job, to look at those standing around doing nothing and say “lazy bunch – why don’t they get a job?”
I don’t know if you’ve lived anywhere where people stand around near a work and income/person power or labour office hoping that someone will hire them for the day. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence. And it’s terribly discouraging. It’s common in big cities.
Looking after workers and the needy is part of the biblical standard given to us. If you want a biblical reference for this read Leviticus 19:
Lev 19:9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Lev 19:10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. Lev 19:11 “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. Lev 19:12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Lev 19:13 “‘Do not defraud your neighbour or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.
And of course Deuteronomy: Deu 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Deu 24:15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
Verse 15 gives us a clue: Mat 20:15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
If the Landowner in the extended simile is God – then he is both generous and sovereign.
And it’s the labourers who were hired at the beginning of the day that the landowner has issues with. Or the ones that had issues with the Landowner.
And this verse 15 is a fascinating one – which actually says this: (BBE) Have I not the right to do as seems good to me in my house? or is your eye evil, because I am good?
The idea of a bad or evil eye takes us back to Matthew 6. Mat 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.Mat 6:23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
And of course in this passage the concept of the evil eye is translated with words like “jealous” or “envious”. And jealousy and envy are aspects or manifestations of the breaking of the last commandment – do not covet. It’s all about what and how you see things. And what we want for ourselves.
A comment in the Life Application Study Bible says this: Spiritual vision is our capacity to see clearly what God wants us to do and to see the world from his point of view. But this spiritual insight can be easily clouded. Self-serving desires, interests, and goals block that vision. Serving God is the best way to restore it. A “good” eye is one that is fixed on God.
It’s about how you see things and how you judge them. About whether you have an eye for the things of the Kingdom or whether your shades have dollar signs on them – or “me, me, me” as a filter – whether you think of your own reward first like Peter. It puts his complaint in context:
Mat 19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
His complaint does rather sound like a whining petulant child now. It has this “unfair” kind of feeling implied. Like the people hired at the beginning of the day for a fair wage who are resentful of the Johnny-come-lately people whom the Landowner gets in at the last minute – and pays the same rate for the day.
The Landowner is totally fair and keeps his agreed deal with the workers who worked all day. What they don’t get is how the 11.00th hour people also get that same wage.
This is grace revealed. Generous grace. It’s about the character of the Landowner, who represents God in the parable.
SOME SIMILAR BIBLICAL EXAMPLES MIGHT HELP:
- Like the penitent thief on the cross. No baptism – no catechism – no chance to serve in endless duties at church. Just grace.
Can you think of others?
- Perhaps the elder brother in the Prodigal Son story comes to mind – whining that his dad was throwing a party for the prodigal who was so selfish and who squandered everything. One commentator reflecting on this says the words of the elder brother might be like this: There are the sounds of a party in progress. “My brother is receiving a celebration? What is going on here? This is certainly not fair.” Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Locations 4518-4519). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
SO WHAT ABOUT US
In every church (certainly in the 6 or more I have served in over the years), you get the workers who have served there for many years, some of whom believe they are entitled to more reward because of years of service. A meritorious kind of status.
The Kingdom of God is not like that. There is no ladder of importance really – we all are recipients of gifts from God. But the moment we treat the church as our club, then there will be a pecking order of some sort.
So is this about the church today? In fact Tom Wright’s thoughts are helpful – he writes with church people in mind – doing church stuff:
God’s grace, in short, is not the sort of thing you can bargain with or try to store up. It isn’t the sort of thing that one person can have a lot of and someone else only a little. The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all. It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal. He makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowingly generous nature.
There is always a danger that we get cross with God over this. People who work in church circles can easily assume that they are the special ones, God’s inner circle. In reality, God is out in the marketplace, looking for the people everybody else tried to ignore, welcoming them on the same terms, surprising them (and everybody else) with his generous grace. The earliest church clearly needed to learn that lesson. Is there anywhere in today’s church that doesn’t need to be reminded of it as well? Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 57-58). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Amazing and generous grace is revealed in the character who portrays the nature of God.
Do you know this God? May you come to discover his amazing grace.
And like the shepherd who leaves the 99 to look for the lost sheep, the Landowner (God) is out in the marketplace seeking those in need and inviting them to participate in a different vineyard in his upside down Kingdom.