Saturday, August 19, 2006

up down turn around

my wife and i had a great discussion over this bible text last week (i know, i know.... nerdy pastor-couple having a bible discussion... but it really is wonderful to have scripture come alive with the one i love).... it started as i was preparing for our upcoming youth retreat. our theme was "the upside-down kingdom" - that is, following jesus offers us more than just a "get out of jail free" card; it will change the way we see the world, often turning things upside-down from the conventional wisdom with which we've been raised...

as i was exegeting the theme text ("whoever wants to become great must become a servant") and setting it in its context, i got kind of stuck on the parable of the workers in the vineyard, in the beginning of matthew 20. i found myself basically siding with the workers who arrived early in the morning to do the hard work. yeah, why should they get paid the same as those lazy eleventh hour "workers"? those guys probably planned to show up at the last minute anyways...

the basic take i've heard on this text goes something like this: don't act like this is unfair because you're all eleventh hour workers! consider yourselves lucky even to be here, sinners! (this usually came before the "repent, you calloused-hearted-sinners" prayer time; some of these pastors probably need to work on anger issues)...

while there might be some truth to this approach (i.e., we cannot earn our salvation), it seems to miss the main point - the thing that is actually scandalous here. namely, that the owner of the vineyard is outrageously generous. there is no enron-type scandal, no looting of employee pensions, no grossly disproportionate ceo wages... no, the scandal is one of grace. the owner is gracious, and it's driving people nuts.

so when jesus hits us with the punchline, "the last will be first, and the first will be last," He is, of course, dealing with more than just the literal order in which the workers are paid. the main point of the parable seems to be the generosity of the owner, not the hard work of his employees. perhaps this is to remind us that God is the main point of His kingdom, and our hard work flows from Him. i don't want to read too far into this parable, but i am reminded that it is a privilege to be even a small part of what God is doing in His kingdom (so much better to work for Him than anyone else) and that, perhaps, serving Him today is reward enough (although what He has promised in the future is not too shabby either)...

thankfully, during the quiz show portion of our retreat, all of our students were able to recognize that the phrase, "you must learn to master your rage... or your rage will master you!" was not an upside-down saying of jesus. nope, that one is from the sphinx!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, good word. Don't you love the process of coming to a conclusion like that? Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle and then relax in the truth? Anyway, I appreciate your insight.

Also, I've got a blog on and was wondering how you made yours look so cool? This isn't a template right? How'd you edit it like that? I really like it.

Thanks again,
Josh Fitzpatrick

11:03 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home