September 21, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 20: 1-16
“Are You Ever Jealous?”
I have noticed lately that some of you are taking yourselves way too seriously. In order to open our hearts and minds a bit this morning I thought you might want to loosen up a bit. Don’t be so jealous of others’ jobs and relax a bit. Sit back and listen to these short stories about bosses and their employees.
Sam walks into his boss’s office. “Sir, I’ll be straight with you, I know the economy isn’t great, but I have over three companies after me, and I would like to respectfully ask for a raise.” After a few minutes of haggling the boss finally agrees to a 5% raise, and Sam happily gets up to leave.
“By the way”, asks the boss as Sam is getting up, “which three companies are after you?” “The electric company, water company, and phone company”, Sam replied. /Author unknown/
Bernice had been employed at the same office for over 50 years and was the boss’s top secretary. Everyone was jealous of her. Every day when Bernice showed up for work she would open the drawer to her left, peek inside, and then lock it. When she finally died, her coworker Sandy, who was dying of curiosity, made it her mission to figure out what was in that drawer.
After days of searching she finally found the key. Sweating with excitement she slowly opened up the drawer. Inside was a folded piece of paper. Slowly she reached inside and took it out, while cautiously looking over her shoulder. After a few seconds of trepidation she opened it up.
It said the following “Put only one spoonful of sugar in the boss’s coffee.” /Author unknown/
Have you ever been “green with Envy”? I didn’t learn that phrase until I was in my teens, yet I saw it way before that! My dad was a loving and compassionate man, he was well liked by many, he was never jealous, yet he definitely seemed upset that the neighbors got their first television set before we did; however we all tried hard to make up for lost time, so I didn’t understand his jealousy. Yet, as an adult I think I kind of understand his jealous emotions. During those early weeks after getting that first television set, my brothers and sisters and I, well… we watched a lot of late night television from behind the banisters on the stairway up to our bedrooms; reflecting back on this my feeling is we more than made up for being last in our neighborhood to get a television set!
Let me start by saying: this will be like a confessional if I start telling you all the times I have been jealous. However, I will confess to you it probably started with my first ice cream cone. All of us, the entire family had driven to an ice cream shop. I remember how hard it was to choose what kind, as there were lots of flavors and different types of cones to choose from. I finally made a choice, probably strawberry; I have always liked that flavor. After everyone had theirs I started to compare mine with what they had gotten. My brother’s was bigger than mine; my younger sister’s was a better flavor than mine because it appeared that she was clearly liking it; liking it better than I liked mine. My dad’s must have been better as well because he was done quicker than anyone else, and everyone knows you eat something you really like fast. And my mom’s … well I definitely wanted to try hers because everyone got a lick of her ice cream cone… therefore it is obvious that they all knew… hers was the best of all!
There you have it: jealousy was born in me that very day! Shakespeare called it the “green-ey’d monster.” And, yes, even as an adult it takes careful diligence to keep it under control, yet it has survived in me and thrives to this very day! Let me warn you, having experienced jealousy, I am keenly aware of it in others. So, be careful if you answer that you have never been jealous… I am either going to be suspicious or jealous, if you say you have never been jealous!
The root of our scripture lesson today is clearly jealousy. The workers that were hired first thing in the morning, they were jealous that the workers hired later in the day got the same full wages as they did! It just wasn’t fair they mumbled! They were angry, resentful and jealous of the treatment these late comers got! Why, they were even paid first instead of last! The workers were unsure of why this was being done. They may have even been fearful that these late arrivals would take their places as future job opportunities came up. This whole thing had really upset them. They had worked hard all day and now felt slighted by the owner that paid these new workers with a full day’s wages when they had not worked hardly as long as they had!
As we get more deeply into this whole concept of jealousy and the workers, we need to be aware that this was a parable that Jesus was telling; therefore, we will need to uncover the parallel meaning. But first, let us go a little deeper into our exploration of jealousy. Jesus told these parables with the expectation that the hearer would understand the story and get the basic concept, the clearly visible attributes of the lesson that was being presented, before going deeper. However, at some point we must address the deeper meaning of our parable that Jesus has used to get a larger message across.
With this in mind let us dig further. The first step to overcoming jealousy is awareness. As we look at this we need to become aware of the fact that jealousy is not a rare emotion. As part of our awareness we need to understand that jealousy is driven by fear of losing something or someone. We shall need to become willing to work on ourselves by understanding the fears that feed our jealousy. People like you and me, we respond to jealousy via defensive responses, triggered by fear. “To cure jealousy is to see it for what is it, a dissatisfaction with self,” says Joan Didion, an American Journalist. Try to figure out why you are feeling jealous: is it insecurity, abandonment, or is it your feeling of vulnerability? Ask yourself why are you feeling jealous? What is it that fuels your jealousy?
In reflection the story about the ice cream cones, well… I always believed my brother had more of everything than I did; his cone was probably just average. My sister was so happy to have ice cream – she just was, more than likely, just really happy to be eating ice cream. My dad probably skipped lunch and he was really hungry, thus he quickly ate his ice cream, plus he was a big man. And my mom – surely it was simply out of love for her beloved children – thus she was simply sharing hers! You see – Jealousy truly is: all of our own making.
If you have allowed your jealousy to hurt someone, then apologize right away! Talk about what you are feeling. Be compassionate to the one you are having jealousy with. And all of us need to work on accepting the fact, whether we like it or not, jealousy is about ourselves, it is about, it is about me – not the other person. By acknowledging our jealousy we can become a better person, thus learning to trust ourselves. If we can truly learn to trust our own feelings and emotions then we can begin to uncover what it is that fuels our fears, fears that lead to our jealousy.
Jesus is telling this parable, this metaphor; this allegorical story to teach us more about the kingdom of heaven. Most folks in that time period understood what a vineyard was and how laborers were hired to work within them. Day laborers actually were the norm. You might ask: were they used like we use migrant farm workers in our society today? Possibly, but the key thing here to remember is ‘those that heard the story’ understood the practice of being hired by an owner on the same day the work was to be done. It was a common practice. And yes, like a migrant farm worker, they were at the mercy of those that hired them. There were no unions or minimum wages during this time period in history. Nor were there health benefits or pension plans to be considered. Possibly, one would assume or at least hope that laborers did get water and perhaps a bit of food during the day as well as their wages. And yes, it is possible that someone could get paid more than another or work less hours – for the same pay. It was up to the owner, or boss to make that decision.
How is this like heaven? In the story the boss, the owner, is very clear with his response to their grumbling, making it crystal clear that the owner had the full right to be generous to the late comers; and who were they to question his generosity, had they not gotten what they agreed to? No, I do not think our God is this condescending or judgmental. Yet, I think Jesus is telling us that they, that we, may find folks in heaven that come late to the table. Another way to say this is that the non-Christian of today, maybe accepted into the Universal Church, the Body really, of Christ at a late hour and yes, may even enter into heaven ahead of us. And, no, you ought not be surprised by this and most certainly you need not become jealous, as God has not stopped loving you and cares for you just as much as always. Your place in heaven is secured no matter how many come to know God through Christ after this hour or after today.
To those of us who are still unsure of our own personal acceptance into heaven, fear not. This parable was written with you in mind. The hour may be late, yet God’s compassion and love are vast. Many times God’s mercy and forgiveness has surprised us. But hold back no longer. Say yes to the invitation. Allow the generosity of God’s unconditional love to bring you to the head of the line.
And to those of you at the head of the table, give up your place and make room for the man or woman that patiently waits at the gate. You and I, we know that Jesus would want us to! “The last shall be first & the first shall be last.”
Matthew, Chapter 20: Verses 1thru 6
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”