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There are moments in the life of every Christian when we might ask: ‘is this for me? Is this the faith to which I should commit my life? Is Jesus the answer to my searching and striving, the person to put my faith in?’
It might be a question that comes when we heat a particular teaching. I can remember taking a mid-week service with a small congregation and reading the parable of the Prodigal Son’. One very faithful worshipper spoke to me at the door on the way out. For the first time, she said, I felt myself in a parable. What disturbed her was the fact that she identified with the older brother. With the one who’d been good and done all the right things.
The faithful child who stayed at home and kept the family business running. Put up, as we all do from time-to-time, with the peculiarity of parents and bitten his lip.
Then the second son returns – and it’s party time. All is forgiven. The elder son can’t cope with the fuss, the celebration, and what feels like the poor reward for his obedience.
Maybe today’s Gospel makes us feel that way too.
We might well find ourselves in the company of the grumbling, hard-working, all-day grafters. Miffed at being treated the same as the late-comers. What kind of world is this, where the sinner and the work-shy enjoy equal rewards? Is this the kind of Kingdom we want to support – to put out faith in.
It has echoes in our current crisis of Covid-19. Some, on furlough, have been paid to shield themselves at home while others have borne the ‘heat and burden of the day’. In places like the NHS, where colleagues have been divided by necessity, it can stir feeling of injustice. How can we be paid the same, when some have worked and others have not? Our heads may know the reasons why this was needed, but human nature can stir very different feelings.
If the parable of the workers in the vineyard was acted out the consequences aren’t hard to imagine. On day two fewer people turn up early. Most wait until the heat of the day has passed and work an hour or two for their pay, in the coolness of late afternoon. I’m not sure how profitable the business would be a week or so down the line.
So why does it matter – what is this trying to tell us? More than anything else, I feel it tells us about the kind of God we are called to worship. A God whose love is limitless, and who desires our good no matter how late we leave it. A God revealed in Jesus who endlessly calls and invites, and at whose banquet no one is ever too late.
If we think it unjust that such love should be offered to both the timely and the tardy, then perhaps Christianity isn’t for us. If this parable offends us then it may be God’s way to let us know that there is more work to do. More work on our spirituality and the misguided feelings of envy for those who come at the eleventh hour.
Here in the Minster it is a reminder to us that long-standing service doesn’t privilege a relationship with God. Through these doors all are equally welcome and equally loved. If the Prodigal Son and the late-arriving workers disturb us, then we need to be disturbed. Faith is not always comfortable and God’s work is at different stages with each of us. We can never be too old to learn, or too entitled to think we don’t have to.
The wages of love are for everyone – and in the troubling times of Covid-19 we all need to be reminded of the God who is here for everyone. From the first light of the day to its end.
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