Reflection on This Week’s Readings


We all have a natural sense of justice, and of what is fair. We might easily conflate the two, but justice and fairness don’t always lead to the same end. Jesus’ parable of the landowner and the workers suggests that God’s sense of justice might not seem fair to everyone. Our ideas of what is right are likely upended by the landowner’s generosity. He gives to each worker not what they have earned but rather the “daily bread” they need.

Sometimes in the church’s ministry, we behave in a spirit exactly opposite that of the parable’s landowner, opting to be “fair” above all else. So, for example, the food pantry can insist on the same items in the same amount for everyone, or the soup kitchen rules dictate that everyone get the same thing on their tray. Yet everyone doesn’t always have the same needs. What if instead of fairness, we also made a way for generosity to sometimes disrupt the rules? There are good reasons for insisting on fairness. Rules establish helpful boundaries. Fairness can help ensure that when resources are scarce, everyone has a chance to receive something. Yet, in the name of fairness, we can also overlook both God’s abundant generosity and the actual needs of others.

Maybe Jesus’ parable doesn’t mean changing the rules altogether. But maybe it means leaving ample space for those situations in which emulating God’s generosity means bending the rules. God’s grace frees us from a stubborn insistence on “only what’s fair” so that we can care for others with generous spirits. No matter when we come to the baptismal waters, God’s word of grace is enough to cover our sins. No matter our circumstances when we are gathered at Christ’s table, God’s generosity means there is always enough for each and every one of us to receive the daily bread we need.


The standard Sundays continue reading Matthew, now in the fifth section of the gospel. Today begins a four-week semicontinuous reading of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.


Once again, Matthew balances his earlier emphasis on righteous living with the assurance of God’s forgiveness. The allegory contradicts the commonplace religious idea that in the afterlife, heaven or hell will be assigned as deserved. In this allegory, God disrupts our notions of reward and punishment by surprising mercy. We receive this mercy already at the table.


The conclusion of the short story of Jonah is chosen as a parallel to the allegory of the laborers in the vineyard. Like us, Jonah begrudges forgiveness for his enemies, and perhaps like us, he cares more about his own comfort than about the lives of 120,000 other people. Perhaps the reader can make clear the poignant irony that this brilliantly-written story intends.
Responding to the story of God's care for the people and animals of Ninevah, we sing this psalm of thanksgiving, we place our trust not, for example, in the rulers of our own Ninevah (v. 3), but in the Lord, who surprises us with unending mercy. We, too, are fed by God. The psalm includes the original biblical worldview that God blesses us in this life, rather than in an afterlife.

Today’s excerpt from Philippians introduces the themes of the letter: joy in the faith and a call for unity. One connection with today’s gospel is that only because of God’s unending forgiveness for both sides of every quarrel can we accept one another and live in unity.
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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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