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September 20, 2020 

 

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST 2020 A

Jonah had just come back to Nineveh after having been inside the belly of a large sea creature for 3 days.  Can you imagine how UNCREDIBLY YUCKY HE FELT?  In fact he was nothing short of DISGUSTED!  I mean, wouldn’t you be?  

Jonah had warned God about those HORRIBLE Ninivites and all the oppression that they had inflicted—ON THEIR OWN PEOPLE!  That was his job as a prophet—to tell the leaders of the people what God expected and to tell them the consequences of their failure to live up to God’s expectations—WHICH THEY HAD PROMISED TO FULFILL—YOU KNOW, THINGS LIKE SHARING AND CARING—especially for those most vulnerable.  One commentator put it like this:  SOCIAL JUSTICE WAS THE INDISPENSIBLE EXPRESSION OF TRUE PIETY! 

Jonah was ready to execute the sentence of judgment on those NASTY NINEVITES, TO LET THEIR LEADERS KNOW WHO WAS GOD.  But then God reminded him that he had skipped a step.  A step that Jonah thought was TOTALLY UNECESSARY.  How silly was it that God would ask him to offer those HORRIBLY CRUEL NINEVITES ONE LAST CHANCE?  

Jonah had LOST HIS FAITH.  He had lost his faith that these selfish leaders would begin to share the wealth and heal the woes of the sick and poor.  He had also begun to lose his faith in God—He wondered if God had gone soft on the crime of the HOARDING OF POWER AND WEALTH.

For those of you that think this sounds more like a SOCIOLOGY LESSON than a SPIRITUAL LESSON, let me explain.  When you read the history of God’s people, in the Bible, God’s hand is obvious, but always interwoven with both natural phenomena and social relationships.  

We should always keep in mind that when leadership, like in Nineveh one of the largest cities in the world at that time and under Israel’s control, does not protect their people, but rather takes from them, that weakens the people’s willingness or resolve to protect it against other kingdoms that are seeking to expand.

God is not what we might nowadays call BEING SOFT ON CRIME, but rather, God’s offer of forgiveness allows both those in power and those oppressed to GET A NEW START—to REBUILD THE PUBLIC TRUST!  

Looking at THE POLITICS OF FORGIVENESS, it could be seen as beneficial for both sides.  The leaders have to be willing to learn how to share better—and they have more than a few good guidelines in their BOOK OF LAWS!  Those of lesser power would be happy to see their lot in life get better by the newfound generosity of the leaders.

Will everything be HUNKY DORRY?  OF COURSE NOT!  All we have to do is look at Jonah to see how a MAN OF GOD can lose his trust in the RELIGIOUS & POLITICAL LEADERS OF THEIR OWN TIME.  As any of us know:  When trust has been broken, or never really established, it is not usually reestablished quickly or easily or willingly.  If you need further proof that COMPROMISE WITH JUSTICE AS WELL AS COMPASSION IS NOT EASY TO ACHIEVE, I encourage you to TURN ON THE NEWS AND LOOK AT THE POLITICS AND SPIRITUALITY IN OUR NATION AND OUR WORLD!

Since I have kind of said that it’s hard to separate matters of faith from matters of social justice, let’s keep that in mind as we look at today’s Gospel lesson.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard.  He hired workers at daybreak and promised them a full day’s wages.  Then he hired more workers at 9am, noon, 3pm, and at 5pm—the last hour of the working day(they didn’t have daylight savings or electricity!)  The landowner told all of them, “I’ll pay you whatever’s right.”

At the end of the day, he began to pay the last ones hired first and then proceeded to the first ones hired.  The workers hired last were paid a WHOLE DAYS WAGE, which I am pretty sure TOTALLY JAZZED THEM.  They were sure not going to ask if maybe they had been OVERPAID!  Each group hired was thankful for his generosity, too—UNTIL HE GOT TO THE FIRST ONES HIRED AT THE BREAK OF DAY.

They figured that, since they were hired first, they should get significantly more than what those paid at the end of the day got.  Although they took their wages, which was what they had agreed to, they were starting to PROTEST saying, “You’ve paid everyone the same, even though we worked hard all day under a blazing sun!”

The owner said to one of them, “Friend, I’m not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me on a day’s wages?  Take your money and go! If I want to give this last worker as much as I gave you.  can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or do you resent my generosity towards others?”

In this way the last will be first, and the first will be last.

I grew up watching the Walt Disney Show on, I believe Saturday night in Chico.  There would often be a movie.  One of my favorites was Disney’s version of “The Prince and the Pauper.”  That’s where in a kingdom long ago, there lived a Prince who was tired of the same old high society in the King’s Court, and a Pauper who was tired of scrapping for what little he could get to survive.

When they bumped into each other by chance, the prince suggested they trade places so the Prince could experience a more down to earth life.  In the process, he also saw how the poor had so little and the rich had much more than they needed.

The Pauper got to experience what it was like to be served by others as being royally important even though he was just an ordinary guy.  They realized that they came from the same human lineage—the same Human Family.  They could see through each other’s eyes that EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHING TO OFFER!

When God gave all of Nineveh a second chance, it was for the benefit of all 100,000 of them—RICH, POOR, OR INBETWEEN!   When the landowner gave all the workers a chance to earn money to survive or thrive, he tried to be gracious to all of us because…say it with me…EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHING TO OFFER.

When, in our country and in our world, there are people who have SO MUCH and others who have MUCH LESS, God wants to remind us with his HOLY WORD, that charity is not something that should come out of our LEFTOVERS, but rather something that COMES IN MANY FORMS AND FROM MANY PEOPLE FROM OUR HEARTS.  We thank you once again, dear Lord for reminding us, when we forget that…EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHING TO OFFER!

And all of God’s charitable children said…AMEN!

 

ADDENDUM:  Nineveh repented and was spared the judgment they had coming.  They changed their life focus.  Let us not mistake kindness for weakness.  Those who abuse God’s kindness, will also inherit God’s JUDGMENT!  And in a just world also their earned consequences!  Sadly, there will also be people who inherit consequences that they did not create.

 

NOW let us sing about how EVERYBODY’S STILL GOT SOMETHING TO OFFER!