Text study for Jonah 3:10—4:11 and Matthew 20:1-16
Lectionary texts for September 18, 2011
The parable of the workers in the vineyard remains deeply offensive to the flesh and to reason. I understand that I should be satisfied with my wages and not begrudge others God’s kindness toward them, however “with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)
Jonah resents God’s changed mind about the fate of the Ninevites. Jonah complains: “You are gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Is that something to complain about? These qualities of God are something to extol as the object of hope and praise.
In the book, “The Song of the Bird,” Anthony deMello writes:
Two brothers heard God’s call to love their neighbor. The older brother went away to serve the poorest of the poor. When a persecution arose he was tortured and put to death. In heaven, God said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
The younger brother stayed home, raised a family and raked his neighbors’ leaves or plowed their snow. He died full of years surrounded by his family. God said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
The older brother observed this and said to God, “If I had it to do all over again, I would still have lived my life just the same for you.”
Such an attitude is not the product of the flesh and reason. It is the gift of God. Flesh and reason can only grumble when someone else receives from God’s generosity what you feel they don’t deserve. Think of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.
But those who have been raised up and restored by grace — Ninevites, Jonah, late-coming vineyard workers — cannot begrudge others their experience of God’s grace. Instead of being consumed by the worm of bitter resentment, God himself is the shade at their right hand (Psalm 121:5).
God leaves no one unemployed: Jerusalem and Nineveh, old timers and new comers. God desires to clothe the naked with the righteousness of Christ, to robe us with grace, and fill us with the mind of Christ. But before we put on our new clothes, our old wardrobe of bitterness, resentment, envy and self-centeredness is washed away and sent down-stream in the waters of holy baptism.
Psalm 145 expresses thanks to God: for putting us to work; for paying us more than we could ever earn; for clothing us with righteousness; and for forgiving us all our sin. After the Law has revealed how like Jonah we are and how like the resentful all-day workers we are, we finally appreciate and do not resent the fact that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! Bless God’s holy name!
R. Don Wright is a 1992 graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. He served 16 years in parish ministry in the ELCA Nebraska Synod with his wife, Donna, who is also an ordained pastor of the ELCA. The Wright family now lives in Pennsylvania where R. Don and Donna both currently serve parishes.