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Christian worship resources, prayer and Bible study

Ordinary 25 Year A 


Introduction

The first thing to recognise about the reading from Matthew this week is that it is not fair. Jesus says that somebody who works all day, slogs and toils will be rewarded exactly the same as somebody who has only made a tiny amount of effort at the end of the day.

We are all geared up to believe that those who work hard should be rewarded, and those who make no contribution get meagre returns. We were all told that at Christmas presents would be brought to the good boys and girls, whilst the naughty ones would get a piece of coal from Santa. What is the point of seeking to live a good life only to find that somebody who has not made the effort receives the same recompense? Why bother to try and live good lives, avoid temptation if we are all going to be treated the same?

The Gospel of Jesus demands a completely different way of thinking. God does not operate on the human system of good deed and subsequent reward. God is dominated by the principle of love. If God gave us our just rewards then we would discover that we all fall far short. Each and everyone of us requires forgiveness, not rewards!

Opening Verses of Scripture  Jonah 4:2

You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.


Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will. After Ignatius of Loyola (1556)

 

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us your gift of faith that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to that which is before, we may run the way of your commandments and win the crown of everlasting joy; 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.  Common Worship

God, our judge and saviour, teach us to be open to your truth and to trust in your love, that we may live each day with confidence in the salvation which is given through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Common Worship Shorter Collect

Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding. Pour into our hearts such love towards you that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire through Jesus Christ our lord.  Amen.  Methodist Worship

O God, surer than the breaking of the day, in the morning, fill us with your love, and in the evening, as the dew falls, refresh us with your mercy, that we may live according to your promises; through Jesus Christ our lord.  Amen  Methodist Worship


First Bible Reading  Jonah 3 : 10– 4:11

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"  "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city

Second Reading  Philippians 1: 21-30

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

You go to my vineyardGospel Reading  Matthew 20:1-16

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went.

"He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' " 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
 "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
 

Post Communion Sentence

We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast: for here we receive you, here the memory of your passion is renewed, here our minds are filled with grace, and here a pledge of future glory is given, when we shall feast at that table where you reign with all your saints for ever. Amen

Commentary

Jesus had a way of communicating which gripped his hearers because he told them great stories which they could remember and think about. The message behind these stories were provocative and challenging, never simplistic and yet they could be understood. In this he was very different from many of the preachers of today. When we read this passage we would do well to remember the ordinary people who listened, probably in a relaxed and rather unsophisticated manner as they ate their sandwiches and cursed the flies. Yet the words of Jesus captivated his audience so that they remembered his teaching, it stuck in the mind.

1. The parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven
At the very beginning of the story Jesus says, 'the Kingdom of Heaven is like........' So much teaching about this passage suggests that Jesus is teaching about the idleness of the workforce, just conditions of work etc. I really do not think that he is making a political point about labour relations, the right to work, socialism or any of the other myriad of political suggestions which people seem to imagine. The parable is about God, we must not reduce Jesus teaching by using it to support our views on socio-economic reform. Now let us be honest we all have a tendency to use scripture to support what we want it to say. Scripture was used to give justification for the slave trade and more recently also apartheid. In the debate which raged in the Church of England (which many still fight) concerning the ordination of women, there is an equal use of scripture to support opposing arguments. The same is true for the debate over remarriage of divorcees in church or acceptability of homosexuality. There is a message of caution here for all of us - to treat scripture with respect is not to weave into it all the interpretations which fit neatly with our views.

2. The teaching deliberately challenges our views of justice and fairness
If we had been the landowner we would have bargained with the ones who did not work so long and offer to pay them less money. However all the labourers are paid the same, irrespective of what they had done, and this seems to be unfair to us. The workers who had worked the longest day said 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day'.

Conclusion

When we put these two points together in a simple and straightforward way we have the essence of what Jesus was teaching. God does not have a system of justice which is anything like a human one. God does not give to us according to what is fair or what we deserve. When we arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven, God willing, humanly speaking there will be people there who do not deserve it. In that respect God is totally unfair, God gives in a way which defies business sense, it is irrational and it goes against everything which we think of when we were calculating reward. God's love and acceptance of us has nothing to do with fairness, it doesn't have anything to do with what we deserve. That is the wonderful thing about this parable, it runs a coach and horses through any notion that we can ever earn or contribute towards God's favour. Not one single one of us deserves God's love, if Heaven were about what we deserve, about what was fair, then it would be empty. The beautiful reassurance of the Gospel is that God treats us according to our needs and not what we deserve. We often hear people demand human rights, and quite rightly the Gospel is often used to support this. But - there is a sense in which this undersells the gospel. In Jesus we learn that God is not working according to our rights. He simply loves us and that love, - not our rights, is what is at the heart of God's being.

This parable like the parable of the prodigal son, and so many others, tells us that God turns human values of fairness, of rights and wrongs upside down. Yet we can trust God totally, knowing that we all will receive from his goodness. It is interesting that the workers complain and moan, not saying 'we want more money', but rather 'you have made them equal to us'. The parable is concerned about the generosity of the landowner, not on the hard work of the labourers. We like to think that we are really better than others, they need forgiveness more than us.

There is a radical, uncontrollable nature about God's grace, by human standards God's forgiveness has insanity written all over it. It is not predictable, and might I carefully say, perhaps some of our theologies of redemption 'who will and who not be saved' do not allow for this kind of a God.

Just recently we have seen hurricanes at work. In a calm sea we can set parameters for where the tide will send the sea. Walls can be constructed which will encompass the ocean and set limits. However when nature is uncontrollable and unpredictable like in a hurricane, these boundaries are removed and the sea goes where we think it cannot go. We sing 'there's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea' this parable could have been written for that hymn.
This is not an isolated theme, it is in fact the essence of what Jesus came to say and do. To preach the forgiveness of God which was not deserved by human effort, to hold out his arms wide to encompass an ungrateful race, whose only response to God's goodness is to spend time trying to decide who else should not receive it. In this we are envious and greedy just like those workers who wanted it for themselves but denied it to the others who were less deserving.

We have images of the Kingdom of God as a happy time with the faithful few enjoying the benefits of the well deserved feast. The stories Jesus told about the Kingdom were very full of conflict and challenge. Perhaps we need to be reminded, like those workers, that we may be disappointed too. We may find that there are 'latecomers' those who we resent and think don't deserve it. Perhaps we just need to be grateful that for ourselves we can trust in God to keep his promise.  Charles Royden
 

Meditation

In the story from the book of Jonah today, Jonah is in a massive sulk! Everything is bad, and awful and he is angry enough to die! When God tries to reason with him, comparing Jonah’s suffering to the much worse suffering of thousands, Jonah simply does not want to understand. He is locked into the prison of his own misery and self-pity. The story makes a timeless point: that we all tend to see the world from our own selfish perspective. We can feel sorrow over the fate of starving millions, but if we stand up and stub our toe, their sufferings are instantly eclipsed and forgotten beside our own! That temporary self- absorption can grow into a lifelong problem. Our faith commands us to try and love others as deeply as we love ourselves, to feel their pain as acutely as we feel our own. It can be done. The only truly happy people I have ever met are those who can escape from the tyranny of their own problems and feelings and empathise with the feelings of others. Joan Crossley

Hymns

  1. Glorious things of thee are spoken (Austria)
  2. Come let us with our Lord Arise (Sussex Carol)
  3. In Christ there is no east or west
  4. Alleluia sing to Jesus (Tune Hyfrydol)

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

Give to us, Lord, the peace of those who have learnt to serve you, the joy of those who are glad to obey you and the delight of those who rejoice in your praise; through Christ our Lord. Amen. Aidan of Lindisfarne (d. 651)

God of miracles and of mercy, all creation sings your praise. Like the vineyard owner, your grace is extravagant and unexpected. Lead us to repentance and the acceptance of your grace, that we may witness to your love, which embraces both those we call friend and those we call stranger. Amen.

Lord God, friend of those in need, your Son Jesus has untied our burdens and healed our spirits.
We lift up the prayers of our hearts for those still burdened, those seeking healing, those in need within the church and the world.

Holy One, hear our prayers and make us faithful stewards of the fragile bounty of this earth
so that we may be entrusted with the riches of heaven. Amen.

O God, from your providing hand even the dissatisfied and grumbling receive what they need for their lives. Teach us your ways of justice and lead us to practice your generosity,
so that we may live a life worthy of the gospel make known through your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

God our Redeemer, who called your church to witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us so to proclaim the goodness of your love, that all who hear it may be reconciled to you. Amen

We hold up our smallness to your greatness, our fear to your love, our tiny act of giving to your generosity, ourselves to you. Amen. (Monica Furlong)

Jesus, who was lost and found in the garden, never to be lost again. Stand by us in the darkness of our crucifixions, as the women stood by you. Die and rise with us in the suffering of the world, be reborn with us, as love and hope and faith and endurance outlast cruelty and death. Amen (Monica Furlong)
 

Additional Material

Commentary

God asked Jonah to be a prophet to the great city of Nineveh. Nineveh became the capital city of Assyria in the reign of Sennacherib, 704–681. In the mind of the author of the Book of Jonah it stood for all the wickedness which had been endemic in the Assyrian empire. Jonah is told to preach against it, because it is a wicked place and it is important to remember that God sees and knows wickedness and does not like it! Instead Jonah went to Joppa, jumped on a boat and headed off across the Mediterranean bound perhaps for Spain. (Tarshish may have been Tartessus in Spain, in the far west.) 

Now you might think that God would be annoyed, well so did the sailors on the boat when a great storm blew up and they found out that Jonah had been messing God about. Albeit reluctantly, they threw Jonah overboard as a sacrifice to placate the wrath of God. Fortunately for Jonah, God did not give up on him. Even when all hope seemed lost God saved Jonah and provided a huge fish. Although the fish ate him up Jonah was able to live inside the whale, just like Pinnochio, for three days and nights. After this time the fish was violently sick and vomited Jonah up safely onto dry land.

Jonah now agreed to go to Nineveh, and he preached a hard message of destruction telling them exactly what was going to happen to them. The people of Nineveh repented, resulting in the forgiveness of God. 

Jonah should be pleased but he was not. 

Jonah became angry, went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. A vine grew over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was happy. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, there was a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint and wanted to die. God pointed out to Jonah the contrast that he was concerned about a mere plant which sprang up overnight and died, how much more should God be concerned about Nineveh which had more than a hundred and twenty thousand people and many animals as well.

Jonah should have been pleased that his preaching had caused the repentance of the people, instead he was miserable. 

Why was Jonah angry at God? He was angry because he felt that God was making a fool of himself and by implication Jonah as well. He was told to preach to the people of Nineveh and tell them that they were going to get their just deserts, but instead of destruction and doom, God went and forgave them all. Jonah knew that he had relied on God’s forgiveness to get him out of the belly of the whale, but he was angry that God was so loving with everybody else as well. In the mind of Jonah God should punish the wickedness in Nineveh, not forgive it, God was exposing himself and his prophets to the charge of being a soft touch.

This was exactly the same problem in the story from Matthew. The landowner was thought to be giving too much away to people who did not deserve it. The people who came at the end of the day were getting too much unearned benefit. 

We might share Jonah’s concern that God makes forgiveness too easy. We make people earn their forgiveness when they offend us. If they want us to forgive they had better do more than say sorry, they had better put in a full day’s work! 

God seems to allow for the fact that the people of Nineveh didn’t know how bad their behaviour was. Their sin is born of ignorance (‘who do not know their right hand from their left’, v. 11), and their repentance was welcome to a merciful God. This is a concept found in the New Testament, we can think of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy Chapter 1:13 ‘I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief’.’ 

Jesus is the most prolific forgiver and shows his attitude in his words from the cross when he even forgives people who fail to say sorry, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ 

The compassion of God plays havoc with our understanding of justice. 
Charles Royden

Commentary

This parable doesn’t appear in either of the other two Synoptic Gospels, (Mark and Luke) so must have come from the missing “Q” source. It has such a complex and difficult meaning that we must imagine that Matthew’s hearers must have found it as disconcerting as we do. Jesus often used parables based on the farming practises of his time. This one is definitely not meant to be taken as advice on how to achieve good industrial relations with your agricultural workers.

Many casual labourers lived a desperately hand-to-mouth existence. Whether they were able to get a day’s work, and thus a day’s pay, was the difference between starvation and food for the family. We must imagine these workers as a ragged and exhausted bunch, hanging about, hoping to catch the eye of the foreman. We must imagine their frustration and disappointment when they were the ones ignored and passed over. We can feel the relief of the men who were pulled out of the crowd and given work! With these powerful feelings in our minds we can turn back to the story. Jesus was using the tale as a metaphor about salvation. He was returning to a theme he addressed a number of times in his ministry – the belief that some Christians held, that they had earned God’s love and salvation, that they had put in the time and the effort and were entitled to their spiritual reward. In the parable the length of service in the vineyard stands for the length of time that Christians have believed in and served the Lord. The long-serving Christians were expecting brownie points and bigger rewards for having done more for longer. Jesus blew away this kind of spiritual book keeping. This parable is similar in spirit to the complaints of the hard working brother who looked after the farm while his prodigal brother went off partying. It echoes of the disbelief of those who heard Jesus promise paradise to the thief who hung next to him on the Cross. God’s forgiveness is shown to be spontaneous and unbelievably generous. Jesus shows that once a person has chosen to love the Lord, all barriers are down. The new convert is as deeply loved and highly valued as a long serving believer. This seems unfair until we remember two things: firstly that God’s love for us is perfect and not partial, and cannot be graded nor meted out in grudging pieces; secondly that we are all unworthy of that love and receive it as a gift, not as a right. Joan Crossley

Hymns

  1. Come down O love divine (Down Ampney)
  2. Colours of Day
  3. Jesus’ love is very wonderful
  4. Now thank we all our God (Nun Danket)
  5. In Christ there is no east or west
  6. Glorious things of thee are spoken
  7. Alleluia sing to Jesus (Tune Hyfrydol)
  8. Father hear the prayer we offer
  9. Come let us with our Lord Arise (Sussex Carol)
  10. Stand up and bless the lord