Collect and Readings for Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Exodus 16.2-15, Jonah 3.10- 4.end, Psalm 105.1-6,37-end, Psalm 145.1-8, Philippians. 1.21-end, Matthew 20.1-16
The Prayer for today O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; 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. Amen.
There is a wonderful candour in the way the Bible records people’s relationships with God, warts and all. In this week’s reading from Jonah, we find the prophet sulking, angry and resentful that the enemies of his own people should be let off the total annihilation he considers they deserve. He almost spits the words out to God, quoting from the psalms he knows, and finding God’s qualities of compassion and gracious understanding, in present circumstances, exceedingly irritating!
We have all done it, we have all been there. We all know how righteous indignation makes us boil, and we take it out on someone whom we know deep down, we can trust. God doesn’t come rushing out defending himself against Jonah’s attack because he can see where his prophet is coming from, and he loves this angry ball of resentment just as much as ever. He gives him time, a little comfort, and a little experience which enables him to see things from God’s perspective. That is quite typical of the way God treats us so it’s worth looking out for it next time.
The point that Jonah had completely missed, and that we so often also forget, is that God does not only love and care for those we think he ought to. He doesn’t share our lines of demarcation, which label some (usually including ourselves) who are ‘deserving’ and others who are decidedly not. This has always brought anger God’s way, and, of course, it happened when Jesus started living out in practice, much to the disgust of the religious leaders, who thought they knew better how a prophet ought to behave and with whom he should spend his time.
Time and again in his teaching, Jesus tries to help us grasp something of the nature of God’s loving, which is so much wider and more far-reaching than we seem to understand. This week’s parable of the hired workmen is a case in point. The first lot are happy to agree a day’s wage, but they cannot cope with the employer being generous to those who started work near the end of the day. Naturally it is not those paid first who complain, but those who see the arrangement as a raw deal for themselves and resent it. If our basis for reckoning in life is simply what we’re worth on an hourly rate, then the longest working labourers have a point.
But the owner is looking at it quite differently and sees the holistic needs of all the men in the marketplace, just as God sees all people with their needs and is concerned to provide for them all. Whenever we see God’s generosity in evidence, however much of a surprise it is in view of our perceived suitability of the recipient, we have no right to question or quibble, but should be rejoicing with the angels at the amazing love of our God.
Some things to think about:
1. Are we happy to do God’s work, or would we rather do our work, maintaining our control and offer it to God complete?
2. Are we still expecting God to keep our rules and guidelines? How can we avoid this in all our planning and church activities?
Rev’d Fiona Robinson