Proper 20a – Sunday 18th September 2011
Matthew 20: 1-16
You kind of get addicted to game shows, don’t you? Deal or no deal? The Chase. The Weakest Link. Red or Black? Family Fortunes. Eggheads. Secret Fortune. Total Wipeout.
All sorts of formats have been tried. Some are proven winners. Others fall from sight without the merest whimper. Some get recycled and repackaged. To create a good game show the basics are the same: it needs to be both engaging and challenging.
My favourite at the moment is the ITV1 show The Chase. Four contestants answer a minutes worth of questions, winning £1000 for each correct answer. To keep the money they each have to outrun The Chaser (a quiz expert) over approx 5 questions. To go home with the money (the accumulated sum of the four contestants) they need to outrun The Chaser over how many questions they can answer in two minutes. Some contestants get knocked out in the first stage losing all their money. In the final part they need to hit at least 22 correct answers – in my opinion – if they are to stand any chance of beating The Chaser. If all four contestants get through that is possible, but if only one makes it to the final stage it’s doubtful they will get enough to win. That’s because The Chasers are very good – one is a Maths Teacher, one is a Barrister and the other is a Journalist – and they certainly know their stuff. In fact, in an average week, I think only one team will beat The Chaser.
The Host, Bradley Walsh, is really excellent. He has a good banter both with the conetstants and The Chasers. He asks each contestant at the start of their turn how much money they would like to win. At this point I always shout at the television, “Take anything, cause it’s more than you came to the studio with.”
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard makes me do the same thing. I often feel like shouting, “Take anything, cause it’s more than you started out with this morning.”
What’s this parable about? Some people say justice and fairness. Some people say grace. Some people say salvation. Some people say discipleship. This parable speaks on many different levels.
Set in context, this parable is even more dynamic than on its own. Just prior to this story we have had the camel and the eye of the needle encounter. A rich young man approaches Jesus, believing that he should be entitled to eternal life because he has always kept the commandments.
And likewise, those workers in the vineyard, who been hard at their toil all day long, felt they should be entitled to a bonus from the boss. Both stories end will similar sayings:
But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.
So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.
What strikes me about these two stories is that they speak to the “me, me, me” culture that we live in. Following the recent riots in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other British cities many commentators said that those who took part in the looting had a swaggering arrogance that they were simply taking what was rightfully theirs. Same could be said for those want to be eco-friendly and yet don’t want wind turbines built opposite their homes. Or the bankers who caused so much of the instability in the economic climate quietly pocketing their bonuses once again. And more than ever before we pass by on the other side when we see injustice, poverty and inequality in our society. Me. Me. Me.
We expect to be rewarded for the good we do. For the life we lead. We feel that life and salvation are earned by good behaviour, by lifelong labour in the church and kingdom, by sound theology. And Jesus said?
Jesus taught that life and salvation are gifts from God – pure gifts, unearned and undeserved.
I need to look at what I do with real humility. Not thinking what a fantastic job I’ve done, and boy am I going to get a good reward for this. There are so many holes in my story of goodness, too many times when I’ve wandered off the road, too many times when I’ve let God down to ever expect any reward. Thankfully, I now see that life and faith and grace and salvation are gifts from God – pure gifts, unearned and undeserved.
Got to rush. Just seen that The Beast is The Chaser today.