God’s Annoying Generosity
With reference to Matthew 20:1-16 & Exodus 16:1-15
Can anyone tell me what the monthly social assistance payment is for an `employable’ single person in B.C.? Any guesses? In BC rates for single `employable’ person (under 65) there is a shelter rate of $375 & for everything else you get $235 for a grand total of $610 per month.
If you are designated PPMB – Person with Persistent Multiple Barriers (e.g. addiction, mental health issues, chronic pain) shelter rate remains at $375 but you get $282.92 for everything else for a grand total of $657.92
I looked this information up on Thursday and I saw that the effective date for these rates was June 2007. 2007? I was sure someone had made a typo. Then I saw that the information was updated as of July 1st 2017. In other words the rate has not gone up in over 10 years!!!
My income at ½ time (on a modest professional salary) is still more than three times the income of a single person on social assistance in B.C. And, even though I don’t see it now, there is a monthly amount that is being put towards my pension to ensure that I will have something to live on in my `golden’ years.
And why would this be important to know? Well keep these figures in mind as we look at Matthew’s gospel .
You might find yourself standing in a line at the grocery store, or sitting at a red light, mumbling that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” That’s from Matt. 20:16. But remember from last week, the author of Matthew liked these add-ons. The thing is, the parable probably ends at verse 15 where the landowner says to the all-day workers, “Why are you envious because I am generous with what is mine to give?”
The parable is about the generosity of God. God provides enough for all. We know that. It is humanity that has a hard time distributing those gifts from God equitably.
In the story, those labourers who worked all day, who agreed to a fair deal up front, are miffed because others who worked fewer hours, got the same total wage.
On the surface it may not seem fair that the last to be chosen should get the same `goodies’ as the first choice people. But have we asked ourselves `Why were these people out there all day?’ What do we assume about them? It doesn’t say that once they sobered up, by 3:00 PM, they came out to look for work. Though that may have been true for some. More likely, they’ve been there since morning – but they are the underemployed and the unemployable – the ones nobody wants – the lame, the brain injured, the mentally ill, the wrong ethnicity, the woman who has to bring her kid to work `cause there’s no place she can afford to leave him.
In the parable we have the vineyard owner paying a fair day’s wage to people who’ve only worked an hour and those who’ve put in a full day. It doesn’t seem right. Part of us rebels. But you know, a loaf of bread, a pound of ground beef, and a tank of gas costs the same, whether you make $11.35 an hour (this is what the minimum wage in BC went up to 10 days ago) or $500.00 an hour.
It is hard to escape a sense of entitlement. In our world we seem to have lost that sense of knowing when enough is enough. Our sense of gratitude is replaced by a sense of entitlement, encouraged by every advertisement that you will ever hear. `You deserve… whatever your heart desires, basically.’
I say, `In our world, in our day’, but it is true of any culture or people throughout history that has risen to the top. And yes we can all find people richer than us, but the vast majority don’t come close in terms of wealth.
So what was the word from the `top’ richest country in the world? Last week Donald Trump made his first address as US President to the United Nations. He made clear to the American public and to the world that the he is sticking firmly to his “America First” vision of US foreign policy. For those looking for a glimpse of hopefulness in his leadership, in a surprise moderation of language, he pointed out that all country representatives in that grand room looked to their country’s interests first. But this flow was broken with audible gasps when he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau also gave his inaugural address to the General Assembly, and stated that ‘Canada is back’ and that, “Every single day, we need to choose hope over fear, and diversity over division. Fear has never fed a family nor created a single job. And those who exploit it will never solve the problems that have created such anxiety.”
Such a statement creates a sense of hope and encouragement rather than entitlement.
Going back to the Exodus story, we hear that the people complained again. They were fearful, and hungry and tired. Their future is completely uncertain. Not enough to eat, not knowing where they would spend the night, not knowing where, or if, they would be welcomed. Wouldn’t you complain?
But then, there are quail. Then, there is mana. There is enough. Enough for each person, regardless of their age, their status, their gender. At some point, the frightened and angry former slaves realized that God was feeding them.
The challenge for us is to look at all we have been given, and offer this prayer will all sincerity which comes from Bishop Federico Pagura of Argentina, “God bless to us our bread, and give bread to all those who hunger, and hunger for justice to those who are fed. God bless to us our bread“
“…and hunger for justice to those who are fed.” It’s not always easy to hunger for justice, and yet that is our Christian calling.
Will Willimon, a visiting theologian at the Vancouver School of Theology says that “The Christian faith is not natural or innate. No one is born a Christian. Conversion is required—change, reorientation, detoxification. The invitation to his lecture says, “This lecture will celebrate the joy of Christians being born again, and again as Christ draws us into his life and ministry in an age that is now post-Christian.”
As a society and as a faith community we need to detoxify from entitlement and build up our sense of wonder, gratitude and justice. What God calls forth is justice, not simply charity. It is `just and right’ that everyone have enough income to have proper nutrition, and safe and adequate shelter. It is the way of God to love unconditionally, generously, and equally. It is the daily challenge of us, as disciples of Jesus, to do the same. Amen.