Begrudged Generosity?

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost VIV – 18 September 2011

Exodus 16:2-15, Psalm 105:1-6, Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
In response to the complaint of some of the workers, the master replied, Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

I am always amazed at the human capacity to compartmentalize various aspects of life. With regard to the Christian faith and religion, compartmentalization often functions at full tilt.

By compartmentalization, I mean taking an aspect of life and treating it as if it had no relationship whatsoever with any other aspect of life. An example. All church people – and most of non-church people as well – know the Ten Commandments. They may not be able to recite them in the proper order but almost everyone knows most of them. Thus shalt not steal – well everyone knows that this is one of the Ten Commandments. And people will believe in it, be outraged should someone steal from them or from a loved one and generally take a strong stand against theft in any form.

But in both the business world and in government one might very well suspend this commandment, and many other moral or ethical considerations for that matter, in an effort to attain success. Many otherwise good men and women will make all kinds of dubious and deceptive deals never believing themselves to be thieves. Somehow, the commandment given by God does not apply in this aspect of real life. Hence, in the compartment of religion, the commandment applies. But in the compartment of business, it does not.

Surely this most certainly applies to Thou shalt not bear false witness. We hate it when someone lies to us. Yet we all know that everyone – or nearly everyone – lies when it serves his or her purpose. Again, we’re angered when due to false advertising we buy a product that fails to do what it claims to do or when we elect an official who deceived the voters to get the position only to do the opposite of what was promised. When a lie is personal and more intimate, we’re not only angered, but also heartbroken. Yet, depending on the circumstances, we apply truth telling to perhaps most aspects of our lives, but not to those parts when deception serves our purposes.

Despite the church’s historical teaching and the testimony of all of Holy Scripture, most church people compartmentalize Biblical instruction separating spiritual life from practical life. The Bible is, in fact, all about real life – home life, family life, social life, business life, recreational life, political life and economic life as well as eternal life. The Bible does not teach about spirituality separate from life but rather a spirituality that saturates all of life – in fact, without the spiritual, nothing physical or material can exist at all. Yet we separate the spiritual from the material and the material from the spiritual as convenient.

Now, this morning’s Gospel lesson illustrates this point. Jesus uses the parable of The Workers in the Vineyard to instruct His us about the nature of the Kingdom of God – a spiritual reality spoken of in very material terms with both spiritual and practical applications intertwined.

The parable tells of the landowner who hires men to work in his vineyard. Some men work all day, others work about half a day, others a little less and another group works for just an hour at the end of the day. The landowner had contracted with the men that they would be paid one denarius, the typical wage for a day’s work in the Roman empire in those times.

Those who had worked all day felt it was unfair that those who had worked only for an hour got the same wage as they did. Not fair!, they said. We worked all day long – out in the hot sun! We deserve more than those guys who only worked for an hour! The landowner spoke directly and unapologetically to the grumbling worker.

Addressing him as Friend, he said that he had paid the agreed upon amount. No one was deceived. Furthermore, it was his money to pay out as he chose. And finally, he paid everyone the same amount because of his generous heart and not based upon the time worked.

With this, the landowner then asked the clincher question – a kind of gotcha moment. He asked, Do you begrudge my generosity?

Well obviously, our Lord was teaching about the Kingdom of God. He wanted to make certain important points. For instance, no one earns his way onto the kingdom – we enter by the grace of God who invites us, calls us into His domain. All anyone has to do is say yes and the kingdom becomes their reward.

The yes is of course, placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. Although that’s not a part of the parable, it is the Lord’s consistent teaching. He wants everyone to know that the reward for those who do so early in life is the same as for those who do so later in life. (This does not mean that everyone is equal, i.e., the same, in the Kingdom. Scripture indicates otherwise.) Salvation comes by faith not by works. Although that may seem unfair, justice in this case is not the central point. The point is that the Lord our God is a generous God. He wants us to rejoice with Him even if we come late to the party. And we must not begrudge His generosity.

Nothing that our Lord tells us stands alone as a spiritual teaching without the real life application. All of His parables use real life situation to make the spiritual points. And the spiritual lessons, as I have said, apply to the practical application. And you will notice that in all of Jesus’ teachings, one or several of the Ten Commandments is either directly or indirectly referenced.

Another example. Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor. If we really think seriously about this commandment we can see how, if we could overcome covetousness, we’d all live in a better world. In fact, covetousness stands over and against generosity. Generosity is a quality of the very heart of God. Covetousness functions as one of the bad guys most powerful motivations.

We hear a lot about social justice in our mainline churches. Now justice – both personal and social -is a great good. But the social justice movement often has little or nothing to d with justice and everything to do with restructuring society based upon covetousness. Someone has more than someone else. We want what he’s got. We want it so much that we take it from him. In this case, covetousness, a sin in of itself, leads to theft. And if the owner of what we want does not willingly give it to us, and we push him far enough, the covetousness can lead to murder.

Hence, the forced re-distribution of wealth is always a great evil. Theft in any form never has a place in the realm of goodness. It’s also important to note that whenever such a system is instituted, those in charge of the redistribution become astoundingly wealthy while everyone else shares unequally in an ever-increasing poverty. The justice makers practice gross injustice, satisfying their own covetousness as they deceive, steal and, if necessary, kill.

One might well ask then, What is the best manner for a wealthy man – or anyone of any means whatsoever – to handle his money? The Parable of the Talents gives us a lesson. Although it seems unfair that the master gives one man five talents of money, to another two talents and to the third one talent – each according to his ability. Notice that the master gives to each according to his ability and not according to his need. This stands over and against the Marxist principle, From each according to his ability – to each according to his need.

Well, the parable tells us that the master is pleased when the first two – blessed with greater wealth – increase their wealth through investment. The only one who gets the sever reprimand is the one talent man who literally buried the money in the ground.

We may be jealous of a wealthy person. We may resent that some people are born into rich families and we were not. We may criticize them for their seeming lack of generosity. Chances are we would be wrong. For the only detrimental thing that a wealthy person can do with his money is to bury it in the ground – unless, of course, he spends it on something evil. These, it does no good whatsoever.

When a wealthy person gives freely to a noble cause, well such authentic charity bears good results. When he invests his money even just in a savings account, the money then serves others who can borrow – at a fair rate of interest – the money necessary for him to better his life through opening his own business or buying a house.

Furthermore, when a rich person spends his money – even on something as seemingly unnecessary in life as a yacht or a private jet, he is employing countless people who build yachts and planes, who have a talent for boat building or aircraft design and construction – or those who make a living as boat and aircraft mechanics. By spending his money, he increases the wealth of those whom he employs. Surely, greater justice and a better society results.

God blesses each of us variously in this world. You will not often hear me speak these words positively, but we can say that God celebrates our diversity. He builds diversity into His creation. He does so with a purpose often difficult for us to see – but there nonetheless. He knows what He’s doing with us. Our job is faith and trust. Our job is to live according to His commandments to both avoid evil and to accomplish goodness.

In all of it, God calls us unto Himself. By virtue of His astounding generosity, He gives Himself to us and for us on the cross of our salvation so that, because He loves us, we can be with Him for eternity.

Our job is to remain faithful to Him and to His commandments. Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Our job is to love Him and keep His Word. Simple as that.

And until the Kingdom comes, when He defeats all evil and establishes His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, our job remains the same – to faithfully keep His commandments as we love Him with all our mind, heart and strength and as we rejoice in His generosity.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, deliver us from all covetousness, deception and abuses of your most Holy Word. Help us to apply your teachings to every aspect of our lives. Instill your Spirit in us and cause us to fight for your cause in deep faith, high hope and in true and holy love.

We ask this in the name of and for the sake of your Son,

our only Saviour,

Jesus Christ the lord,


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