RCL Year A Proper 20
Jonah 3:10—4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Saint Matthew 20:1-16

We have this week another parable that involves money. It involves money very seriously even if it doesn’t involve talents and denarii. Christianity is a gritty and tough religion despite all our attempts to optimize and sanitize it. If we are honest with each other and honest with Christ, we find over and over again that the Scriptures and the opportunities before us address the tough and difficult things in our lives, making demands of us far more challenging than we probably would set for ourselves.

We had an example of this last week in the parable out the slave who has forgiven a ten-thousand-talent debt and was unable to forgive a one-hundred-denarii debt. The parable was about money on the surface, but it was truly about forgiveness beneath the surface.

Money is like that in our lives. We work for it. We save it. We invest it. We spend it. We give it away. We live off of it. But what is it to us? What does it represent beneath the surface? Most of us realize that money is important. Our emotions go up when we talk or listen to anything having to do with money. But most of us don’t want money as an end in itself. Most of us want what money can do for us. What does it represent? What would Christ have it represent to us?

Last week we had talents and denarii, and the parable was about forgiveness and the lack of forgiveness. In the parable today, we have no talents and no denarii, but we have several mentions of “the usual daily wage.” By my count, “the usual daily wage” is mentioned four times. But what does “the usual daily wage” represent in this parable?

We can be sure of one thing. In this parable, “the usual daily wage” does not represent what we usually mean by fairness. Whether it is your understanding or mine, fairness is about as far from the meaning of this parable as could be. You will agree with me, I hope, that it simply isn’t fair for someone to catch fly balls in left field and hit those same balls to other fielders for several months a year and be paid millions of dollars every season. An acquaintance of mine who directs a summer camp for children and who tries to teach catching fly balls and batting balls along with good sportsmanship and fair play makes a small, very small, percentage of that out fielder’s salary. It isn’t fair.

Neither is it fair by our standards for the workers in this parable. Those hired early in the morning are paid “the usual daily wage.” Those hired about nine o’clock are paid “the usual daily wage.” Those hired at noon, and three o’clock, and even five o’clock are all paid “the usual daily wage.” It isn’t fair. But, if Jesus tells a parable that isn’t about fair treatment, what is it about?

“The usual daily wage” is a generous God being generous. God is generous, more generous than usual understandings of fairness. God is so generous that the generosity is hidden by the equal, not relative, amount of it. Generosity, God’s generosity, knows no bounds. It can’t be represented by a pay scale, a ladder of hourly or yearly wages. For generosity to be worthy of God, it must be outlandishly generous.

Let me try to give you a kind of translation of the parable. Those who heard God’s call and lived according to God’s example in Christ were given the usual eternal salvation. Those who heard God’s call at age twenty, those who heard God’s call at forty, those who heard God’s call at sixty, at eighty, at one hundred, they were given the usual eternal salvation. Remember some of the last words of the parable: “Are you envious because I am generous?”[1] “The usual daily wage” is the usual eternal salvation given freely to those who live the life God has prepared for them.

I want to ask you to use your imaginations for a minute. I want you to imagine something that isn’t so. Would you imagine for a moment that relationships were visible. You could see the bond which ties together a husband and wife, or the bond which ties together close friends, or the bond between a parent and child. All of these would be visible; use your imaginations; all of us could see them. Imagine also that the bond tying us to God were visible. We would see, use your imaginations, a golden thread which could not be cut, a golden thread no one could break, a golden thread established for time and for eternity. That golden thread would be “the usual daily wage.” That golden thread would be “the usual eternal salvation.”

Money as forgiveness. Money as salvation. These are the ways Christ speaks to us about our money. How do you speak to yourself about your money? Christ in this parable has spoken to us about money representing the bond God establishes and maintains with us. That bond doesn’t depend on fairness. It doesn’t depend on the hour of the day you first caught on. It simply depends on God’s generous act. The “usual daily wage” expresses God’s intention never to break that relationship. Perhaps, just perhaps, your money can represent your response to God. Just maybe money can represent your intention never to break the relationship, either.

[1] Saint Matthew 20:16.