Christ is Grace!

Christ is Grace!

Exodus 16: 2-15
Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1: 21-30
Matthew 20: 1-16

“Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Philippians 1: 27

Tena koutou katoa e te whanau o Te Wairua Tapu.

Last week’s kauwhau was all about forgiveness. “How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered Peter, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Today it’s about Grace. And Jesus tells the parable about the labourers and the owner of the vineyard. 

I am sure we could all give our own version on this parable. We probably even know people who, from our humble perspective anyway, neither earned nor deserved what they got; a job, a promotion, a pay raise, recognition, success even happiness. Even though we worked longer and harder it doesn’t seem to make any difference. More often than not we view the world, ourselves, and others through the lens of fairness rather than grace, the exact opposite of how God views the world and our lives.

We’ve been taught that fairness matters. When we were kids we had to share everything; food, clothes, money etc. If you tried to do something sneaky like grab more food, someone would quickly say, “Hey, what you doing?” Then, sometimes you would see someone get more than you and you would think, “That’s not fair!” But you wouldn’t say anything because you got a whack! So the concept of fairness is ingrained within us one way or the other. Too often, however, fairness rather than love, acceptance, mercy, forgiveness or generosity is the measure by which we act and judge another person or life circumstances. We like fairness because it give us some assurance of order, predictability, control and power; even if it’s a false assurance. Fairness is based on what you deserve, how hard you work, what you achieve and the way in which you behave. Sometimes it’s fair to give a reward and at other times a punishment. You see, we live in and promote a wage based society in which you earn what you get. You deserve the consequences, good or bad, of your actions.

But, what happens when divine goodness overwhelms human fairness? You get today’s parable. The parable suggests wages and grace stand in opposition to each other. They are two opposing world views. The parable strikes us as unfair because our life and world view is wage based. A wage based world view allows little room for grace in our own lives or the lives of others. Therefore, Grace is dangerous to this world view as it reverses the business as usual. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” That’s not how a wage based society works. The world says the last are last and the first are first because they deserve it. It’s what is fair. Our understanding of fairness, however, doesn’t seem to have priority in the kingdom of heaven where grace is the rule not the exception. Grace looks beyond our productivity, our appearance, our dress, our race or ethnicity, our gender, our accomplishments and our failures. Grace recognises there is more to you and who you are than what you have done or left undone.

Grace reveals the goodness of God. Wages reveal human effort. Grace seeks unity and inclusion. Wages make distinctions and separate. Grace just happens. Wages are based on merit. The only precondition of grace is that we show up and open ourselves to receive what God is giving. When we do, we begin to see our lives, the world, our neighbours differently. Grace reminds us that we are not nearly as self-sufficient, deserving, or independent as a wage based society would like us to believe. Neither is our worth determined by our productivity or usefulness to another. Grace doesn’t justify or excuse discrimination, unfairness or oppression. To the contrary it holds before us the truth that each person is more than their behaviour, their looks, their accomplishments or their failures.

The tragedy of a wage based life is that it blinds us to the presence of grace, the life of God, in our own life. It can make us resentful of grace, goodness and beauty in the life of another. It separates and isolates us from others. Eventually we set up standards and expectations not only for ourselves and others but for God. That’s what happened to the first ones hired in today’s parable. They saw themselves as different from and more deserving than the ones hired later. They grumbled against the landowner saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us.” The truth is they’re not that different from each other. Neither group owned the vineyard. Both groups needed a job and both groups were chosen, invited in, by no effort of their own doing. However, there’s something that distinguishes the first ones hired and the ones hired later.

The distinction is not what time they showed up to work. The real distinction between the two is the terms under which they entered the vineyard. The first hired entered the vineyard only after agreeing to the usual daily wage. They settled for too little. They shortchanged themselves. That’s often what happens in a wage based society. Apparently the landowner is willing to pay more than the usual daily wage. A full day’s wage for less than a full day’s work. “That’s not fair,” we might say. No, it’s not. That’s grace.

The first hired got what they bargained for. The later hired workers, those who come at 9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., even 5:00 p.m., did not, however, negotiate for the usual daily wage. They entered the vineyard trusting they would be paid “whatever is right.” Whatever is right is not determined by the first hired or by a wage based society but by the goodness of the landowner. These later hired workers received more than they earned, more than they deserved, more than they had a right to ask or hope for. That’s just what God does. “Whatever is right” isn’t about fairness but about grace. Why settle for the usual daily wage when God wants to give you “whatever is right” for your life, your needs, your salvation? “Whatever is right” will always be more than fair, more than we could ask or imagine. Yet we trust a wage based life more than we trust grace. In so doing we deny ourselves and others the life God wants to give. 

So how might we begin to move from a wage based life to the vineyard of grace? Stop comparing yourself and your life to others and you will create room for grace to emerge. Refuse to compete in such a way that someone must lose for you to win. Trust that in God’s world there is enough for everyone. Let go of expectations based on what you think you or others deserve. Give God the freedom to pay whatever is right knowing that God’s ways are not your ways. Make no judgments of yourself or others. That’s the way of grace, the way of God. Amen.

Archdeacon Kaio Karipa

God of grace, you are kind to all people, good beyond our understanding. Help us to be grateful for what we have been given and merciful and generous with our sisters and brothers. Teach us the ways of your kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu