Parish Church of St john the Baptist

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Vicar's Letter

20th September 2020

 

Dear Friends,

I recently watched a television programme about life around the border between Mexico and the United States of America and the wall President Trump wishes to build between the two countries. It was fascinating to see the variety of situations explored in the programme, from Mexicans who were proud to be living in their country and had no desire to leave, to Americans who have retired to Mexico for a quieter life. There were numerous Americans who travel as day-trippers to Mexico for cheaper dental treatment, and the families who have fled countries, such as Honduras in fear for their lives. Even though they wish to seek asylum in the USA, they are stalled at the Mexican border while their cases are considered, which usually takes years. I feel the media doesn’t show the myriad circumstances around the border, rather just the number of illegal immigrants trying to enter the USA and it fuels people’s fear. I believe the same thing happens in this country when we hear of refugees trying to seek safety in pathetically small boats crossing the Channel. The result is that we run the risk of losing our humanity and stop seeing these people as our brothers and sisters - people made in God’s image, and instead dangerous beings to be feared and expelled. We can fall into the trap of judging and deciding who is worthy.

The same can be seen in our parable set for today (Matthew 20:1-16), and it’s Peter who has once again prompted Jesus to respond with these challenging words. Just a few verses earlier in the previous chapter, Peter asks Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have? (v.27). He’s basically saying, ‘What’s in it for us?’ Once again, the disciples have missed the point about Jesus’ mission and the Kingdom of Heaven, so Jesus uses yet another parable to put them, and us, straight.

Jesus describes a very familiar picture of village life to the disciples - the market place with workers waiting to be hired throughout the day. This may sound strange to us, but in Jesus’ day, the market place was like the local job centre. Men who didn’t have regular employment would wait around with their tools waiting for work. The fact that some were still waiting at 5 o’clock shows that they were far from lazy, but rather desperate for employment.

These labourers formed the lowest class of workers in the community and their lives were precarious. Even slaves had more security because they were somewhat attached to the family for whom they worked and rarely starved. Whereas, for these men in the marketplace, a day without work literally meant the family went hungry. When the landowner gave the men work at 5 o’clock I doubt they ever expected a full day’s pay; I imagine they were just as surprised as the workers who had worked all day when they received the same amount.

This parable is so clever because it taps into our human tendency to judge others. At face value, it does seem unfair that the workers received the same wages, but let’s remember Jesus wasn’t talking about money, but rather the Kingdom of Heaven where normal rules don’t apply.

The overarching message of this parable is that God’s grace can never be earnt. As the author, Philip Yancy wrote in his book, ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace’, “Grace teaches us that God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are.” In response to Peter’s question, ‘What’s in it for us?’, the answer is, the same as everyone else who followed Jesus. It doesn’t matter when we came to faith, whether we were young or an adult. It doesn’t matter whether we turned to Christ when we first heard about him or whether it took us years to fully respond. Any of us who seek God will receive his love and blessings in equal measure. And so, let us allow that promise of God’s overwhelming generosity to prompt us to pray ever more fervently for those we know and love who haven’t yet come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour; there is always hope.

Jesus also isn’t interested in status; the labourers who were still standing in the market place at 5 o’clock may have been frail, elderly, less skilled than those hired at the beginning of the day, but in the parable, all are treated equally by the landowner. And so it is with us; Jesus isn’t interested in man-made status or power. It means nothing in the Kingdom of Heaven; all that matters in our earthly life is that we love God and love our neighbour as ourself. As Jesus himself said, “There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31) because everything else will flow from them. If there are times in our lives when we’re feeling very small and insignificant, let this reassure us – we are of infinite value in God’s eyes, and we can bring immense benefit to the world with God’s help. Alternatively, if there are occasions when we might find ourselves feeling a little haughty, let’s remember these words in the Letter of James, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (4:6).

The Kingdom of Heaven can sometimes be hard for us to fathom because it’s so different from the values of the world, but Jesus shows us what it’s like and we can see glimpses of it in this life, rather than just waiting for life eternal. It could be said that the Kingdom of Heaven is life turned on its head and it is worth striving for with every fibre of our being for ourselves and for all of God’s children. I think it is summed-up beautifully in the words of Bryn Rees’ hymn, The Kingdom of God;

 

God's kingdom is come,

the gift and the goal;

in Jesus begun,

in heaven made whole.

The heirs of the kingdom

shall answer his call

and all things cry 'Glory!'

to God all in all.

 

Every blessing, Heidi.

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