Day Twenty-nine: Thursday, July 16th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 20:1-16
Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:
One of the fascinating phrases in the bible is “I am”. With those words God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them. God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” That “I AM”, in the third person, is Yahweh. The Gospel of John is noted for having numerous “I AM” statements from Jesus.
- I am the bread of life
- I am the light of the world
- I am the door
- I am the good shepherd
- I am the resurrection and the life
- I am the way, the truth and the life
- I am the true vine
It seems clear that John wants the reader to see the connection of Jesus with Yahweh, I AM WHO I AM.
“I am” statements are not nearly as prominent in the other gospels. Still, it stands out to me in the telling of the parable of the workers in the vineyard that Jesus uses an “I am” statement. As with the other “I am” statements in John, this “I am” statement reveals much about who Jesus is. This “I am” statement reveals much about who God is. When the final workers are paid in the parable…and note that the workers are paid in reverse order…those hired last are paid first, when the final workers are paid and as they express their displeasure at being paid the same amount as the workers hired last, we hear this question from the owner of the vineyard. “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Jesus begins the parable by telling us this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. The identity of the owner of the vineyard is obvious. If the vineyard represents the kingdom of heaven, then God is the owner of the vineyard, As the Son of God, Jesus shares in that ownership. As human beings we are drawn into this parable because we are concerned with issues of fairness and being properly rewarded for our labors. Here in the parable, ones who have worked hard from the beginning of the day receive their agreed upon payment. But when others who work less, who do not work as long, who seem less deserving, who have made less sacrifice, when ones who started late receive equal payment, receive equal recognition, receive equal place in the kingdom, those who worked longest and who worked hardest grumble.
It is at this point the “I am” statement found in this parable appears. It would be a stretch to say Matthew had the same intention as John in using an “I am” statement. Maybe Matthews intends nothing at all by inserting an “I am” statement in the parable. But there it is, right when the early workers grumble because the late workers were treated equally, the owner of the vineyard says, “Are you envious because I am generous?” I am generous.
If we take that “I am” statement to heart, the whole parable grinds to a glorious and immediate halt. God is generous? Surely this is good news. This is definitely good news for the late arriving workers. But if the early arriving workers ponder the meaning of what is being revealed, it is good news for them as well. God is generous. “I am generous.” Those three words lay the foundation for a kingdom of mercy, a kingdom of grace, a kingdom of forgiveness. This is no harsh God who punishes, a God who keeps score, a God who keeps a record of wrongs. This God is generous. The kingdom of heaven has a king who is generous. Our God is generous. Such is the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom where in his generous, merciful, and sacrificial love our Lord Jesus would open his arms wide so that we can all find our welcome in his kingdom. Such is the great love revealed on the cross. Such is the action of the one who said, “I am generous.”
The parable of the workers in the vineyard, “Is essentially about the generosity of God. It is
not about equity or proper disbursement of wages but about a gracious and undeserved gift. It is not about an economic exchange but, rather, about a bestowing of grace and mercy to all, no matter what time they have put in or how deserving or undeserving we may think them to be. God’s generosity often violates our own sense of right and wrong, our sense of how things would be if we ran the world. Are we unable to celebrate another’s good fortune because we have not celebrated our own? How often am I ungrateful for God’s graciousness and mercy? How often do I deny God’s love and forgiveness in my own life? Jesus leaves us with a question: can we learn to see through the eyes of God? Our ideas of right and wrong, of what is just and unjust, are not necessarily God’s ideas—and that is a very good thing. We are reminded by this parable that the tables are turned. When we look for equity, we are surprised to find generosity.” (Charlotte Dudley Cleghorn, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, p. 96).