Our children may all be adults and even with children of their own, but they still take great delight when opening cards together at Christmas to suggest that they have been the recipient of an act of greater generosity than any of the others. “Wow.” cries one when opening a card from an Aunt, “She’s given me £20!”. “£20?” enquires another … “She’s given me £30!”
Human nature loves a generous heart and instinctively warms towards acts of generosity, but less so if those acts of generosity are not directed towards ourselves. Consider how Jonah responds to God’s generosity over Nineveh. The story Jesus tells in Matthew, is one in which conventional thinking and understanding is turned upside down, for it is the account of an act of scandalous generosity, and in that, it is an account that serves to illustrate God’s wonderful heart of love towards both you and me.
As hired labourers, these men were already living at the mercy of chance employment. A day’s lost wages meant empty stomachs for the family at the end of the day and so they would stand in the market place seeking work.
Those who began their work for the landowner at the start of the day and those who were hired soon after, do so under a contract. They know what their reward will be. The world’s system of justice would see that anyone working for less than the full day, have their pay incrementally adjusted downwards, but here, we encounter the heart of the landowner. The days wage would just about cover the cost of a meal for their family so anything less would result in a worried wife and hungry children. The landowner goes way beyond accepted justice and provides them with far more than they were due, and in so doing, reveals the true heart of the men hired at the start of the day. They are not happy at all and let it be known.
They think that they are worth more. ‘Beware when drawn to compare; for it can lead to despair.’
In these few verses, Jesus communicates the compassion and the generosity of God to mankind. The men are rewarded out of the grace of the landowner. They did not deserve to be treated the same, but were none the less. But surely, ‘that’s not fair?’. To arrive at such a statement is, however, to reveal our desire to judge God by our own standards, for the startling truth is that fairness has nothing to do with it. If God was being fair, we would be left in a situation of eternal separation from His presence. We cannot earn what God gives us and we most surely don’t deserve it.
What God gives us is not pay, but a gift. Not a reward, but a grace. A scandalous grace.
The reality is that the life of a disciple of Jesus is spent in an atmosphere of grace from its very start to its finish. All mankind, no matter when they come to God, are equally precious to Him. Peter and Paul both remind us that the Father’s heart is that none should perish and that everyone should live their lives with the knowledge of His love. My cousin came to faith in her early 20’s, lived and walked her life as a disciple of Jesus and died a year later. My mother came to faith in her early 20’s, lived and walked her life as a disciple of Jesus and lived another 60. Their gift is the same. Eternity in the presence of God himself. All service ranks the same with God as it is the heart with which it is undertaken that matters. ‘Are you envious because I am generous?’ asks the landowner. Praise God, that He is precisely that.
With the Lord’s Blessing
A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her session with the children and wanted to check that the group had understood her and so she asked:
‘So .. who can tell me what we must do before we can receive forgiveness of sin?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room a small boy spoke up. “Sin!” he said.
We don’t usually have a problem with sinning, do we? I wonder how many of us are upset or angry with someone right now? Left unresolved, unforgiveness has the power to destroy relationships and break up communities. Jesus is directing us towards a successful way of resolving conflict and dealing with offence and it’s a way that avoids self-righteous vindication.
Perhaps the first thing to understand is that forgiveness is not a feeling we have but a decision we must make. Our readings today all deal with the reality that God wants us to live in love and freedom and to experience the fullness of His life within us, but we cannot do this or experience this whilst holding onto a grievance. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read of the need for it to work in both directions. Matthew 5:23-24 directs what we should do when we realise we have upset someone, and here in chapter 18, what we should do when someone has upset us. The objective is the same; reconciliation and in both instances, we are directed to take the initiative.
At the time that this account was being written, the church was experiencing persecution from outside of its body and from within it. There is a concern for the well being of the individual, yes, but also for the survival of the Church itself. The Church must be seen to behave differently and to deal with conflict resolution differently. I often repeat a saying that I heard many years ago; that the Church must not have any ‘lumpy carpets’. Hiding a difficulty does not make it go away, it just creates a trip hazard for later.
God’s way of doing things is different to the world’s and we are meant to be different. The world tends to focus on encouraging our own personal rights and if followed through this can often result in relationships being broken far too easily as a response to a feeling of our individual freedom being restricted by someone else. I have known of many church congregations being blighted and broken by just such a response. The enemy seeks to divide us as what he can divide he can then begin to dominate and we must seek to never give him any such satisfaction. David reminds us in Psalm 133 how much God loves unity, for it is there that He commands a blessing.
The process Jesus directs us to, begins with the opportunity to retain personal integrity and avoid public embarrassment by speaking privately together. Not writing or sending a text or an email. These can always be misinterpreted. A face to face encounter is always the very best way forward. If this fails to resolve the situation then we are encouraged to gradually increase the level of response but always, as Paul writes in Romans and in Galatians 6, in love and in gentleness. The reference to the tax collectors can be seen as Jesus acknowledging that sometimes people are just not ready to live in peace and as a result they may become distant, but reminding us that no one is beyond hope.
If they will not listen, then pray for them and move on as you will have done all that can be done at present and, in effect, it is they who are removing themselves from you. But, in all things … work from a principle of Love. I encourage you, if you are aware of any unforgiven grievances to seek Christlike resolution and reconciliation for your own personal freedom and the life that Jesus has promised, but also for the sake of the Kingdom, that nothing shall divide us.
With the Lord’s Blessing
The song ‘I am what I am’ became a huge hit for Gloria Gaynor back in 1983. It’s a song that proclaims individual liberty and freedom by focussing on self. Self-help and self-affirmation groups are incredibly popular and one quick internet search released 112 million sites designated to the concept. Perhaps their popularity lies in the assertion of a positive identity over ourselves and that’s good and right but in doing so, apparently denies the positive identity we have already been given in and by God himself. It is when we forget this that so many problems can arise. Take a look at Genesis 3 to see where that ignorance can take you.
Last week’s reading focused on the new name and heavenly identity that Jesus gave Simon once he had realised and declared the truth of who Jesus is. Simon became Peter; a name loaded with significance for his future and for the life that God had ordained for him to live. Today we are reminded of the name of God himself and how, like Simon, once we know it and own it for ourselves it has the power to transform our lives for ever.
Like Moses, sometimes God does things in our lives to gain our attention. It’s interesting to ponder just how many times we may have missed those appointments with God or ignored His voice or His intervention. Look at how Moses responds. He investigates. We might choose to ignore it but Moses chooses to seek it out – ‘I will go over’. As soon as God sees his response He moves up a level and speaks to Moses and Moses responds. The fact that Moses listens is very significant as it suggests a lifetime of being taught about God and the heritage that Moses and the Hebrew people have in Him. Be mindful then of how important it is that our children are introduced and matured in that critical truth.
God reveals His mission for Moses and it is at that point that Moses hesitates and enters into his first expression of reluctance, for there are several more to come, but notice why that occurs. ‘Who am I, that I should go …’ It is as soon as Moses focuses on himself rather than on who God has made him to be that fear and doubt begin to take hold. The truth is that in God, Moses is everything he needs to be otherwise God would not have trusted this mission to him. God has made Moses and knows and sees his destiny but for that to be released Moses must understand the truth behind the one who asks him. Note the promise God gives him. God promises to be with Moses … (Yeah!) but the sign of that being so will be at the end when everything is accomplished. Hmmmm – maybe not quite what Moses was wanting to hear! God is asking Moses to trust Him, to work with Him, to walk with Him into victory; and that trust and that faith must be rooted in the identity of God himself.
‘I AM who I AM’. God identifies himself as ‘I AM’ 719 times in the Bible – 508 of those in the Old Testament. ‘I AM: …. The God of your father … the Lord …The one who comforts you … the one who is … I AM God … In the New Testament Jesus states: ‘I AM’: … the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the resurrection and the life, the way and the truth, the true vine, the beginning and the end, your salvation, … I am with you always.
Basically … I AM everything you need … I’ve got it covered, now and always and if the answer doesn’t exist .. I’ll create it!
I wonder where you need God to be the great ‘I AM’ in your lives today. Seek Him. Talk to Him. Trust Him. For in Him, we are who we were created to be & have everything we need.
With the Lord’s Blessing
Jesus is once again tackling the issue of religious rules and the Pharisees fixation on their observance instead of focussing on the attitude of the heart. I wonder how many times this week you and I have done something because we thought we should rather than because we wanted to? I can often find myself falling into this situation all too easily. How many times have I said “I’ve got to go to … ” or, “I’ve got to do this ”or, “I’ve got to do that.” If the person I was on my way to visit heard me speaking like that, they may end up thinking that I didn’t want to be with them and that just wouldn’t be the case at all.
The truth is that when we do something out of love rather than out of compulsion, we respond in a different way. Negative thoughts and attitudes are replaced with positive ones. Our attitude is right. Our desire is right. When these things are right we begin to live our lives in a different way, for, as Jesus tells us, what comes out of our mouth matters as that is a reflection of what is taking place on the inside of our heart; and the state of our heart comes down to what we decide to feed it – what we focus and build our lives upon.
It was the French scientist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826 who first made the connection between our diet and our behaviour. "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es." [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. But as Jesus reminds us, physical food is eaten and then it is discarded. Its benefits are temporary. What truly matters is what we feed our spirits on. We need to feed upon God himself and this will change the way we live fundamentally.
The attitude of the Canaanite woman is attractive to Jesus. She is sincere, passionate, honest, persistent and full of faith. Notice what happens to her during her conversation. She begins by pursuing Jesus yet ends by worshipping Him. She begins with a demand yet ends with a prayer.
She begins by grabbing his attention yet ends on her knees.
Jesus’ words may seem harsh here, but the term ‘dogs’ in this context is ‘Kunaria’ which refers to a household pet and not the scavenging, diseased animals of the street. I see the compassion in his eyes and his smile as he speaks to her and the delight at her typically Greek, quick witted response.
So, what does this teach us? That we need to pursue all that will make for a clean heart.
We need to pursue Jesus. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman experiences a revelation and moves from an academic understanding to a spiritual one. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman moves from accosting attention to worship. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman moves from demand to prayer. Persistence in pursuing God’s influence on our lives is critical to our fruitfulness and prayer is a crucial factor.
When everything seems to go wrong … just P.U.S.H
When the job gets you down … just P.U.S.H.
When people don’t react the way you think they should … just P.U.S.H.
When your money is gone and the bills are due … just P.U.S.H.
When people don’t understand you … just P.U.S.H.
P = Pray, U = Until, S = Something, H = Happens
With the Lord’s Blessing
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale