“Give Us This Day...”
Our lesson from Matthew today is a simple enough parable from Jesus. Shocking and counterintuitive to the way most of us think (to say the least)... but simple, none-the-less.
People gathered... waiting for work... waiting to be hired... waiting to earn a day’s wage – which, of course, back then, was literally just enough income to feed your family, for one day.
“Daily bread” in-other-words. Kinda like the manna (or Bread from Heaven) in the Exodus story... and just like the “model prayer” of Jesus that we’ve come to call “The Lord’s Prayer.”
“Give us this day... our daily bread.”
I wonder if it ever really dawns on us... do we realize exactly what we’re praying when we use Jesus’ words, or is it just something we’ve memorized and rattle off from rote memory? How many of us have experienced, really experienced, living “hand-to-mouth” - one day to the next?
Those who can remember the Great Depression... or at least remember the stories from that time... handed down by those who experienced it firsthand, may have a sense of what it was like. But most of us have no idea.
We can only imagine what it must have felt like... to be hired late in the day... and know the reality of earning less than a day’s wage... It meant more than just belt-tightening, or going without a few niceties. It could literally mean the difference between eating, and not eating. Not to mention what it could do to a person’s sense of self-worth, their self esteem... to be overlooked or passed by time and again when all the hiring was taking place.
To be passed-over creates anxiety, and the anxiety of going home empty handed HAD to grow more and more intense as the hours passed. I mean, could working through the heat of the day be any worse than having your hopes for “daily bread” for your family fade away as the sun began to set?
Even apart from the need for daily bread... work... as in our ability to work... and provide for ourselves... is a foundational part of identity. We often see ourselves through the lens of our occupation. If you ask someone who they are, they will (more than likely) tell you what they do. And for those denied the opportunity to work... because of disability, age, or any other cause... they often feel a deep sense of despair and a lack of purpose and meaning in life. We complain about our work sometimes... it can be stressful, it can be monotonous, and difficult; but to be out of work can be even worse.
Our lesson today is clearly about God’s extraordinary generosity and fairness. In Jesus’ parable... ALL of the workers received a full-day’s wage, regardless to how long they actually worked. Everyone was able to go home and feed his family. Much like the story of manna from heaven, everyone got enough, no one got too much, nothing was left over.
Jesus is saying this is how it’ll be in the kingdom of God. Remember... Jesus began this parable by saying “the kingdom of heaven is like...” Jesus wasn’t talking about the world... our world... The kingdom of the world’s very different from the kingdom of heaven. In this world... those who work less, get less... the concept of grace and unmerited, unearned benefit is antithetical to our view of fairness and provision.
But for Jesus, in the kingdom, everyone who’s given the opportunity to work... to join in... everyone who’s called... and answers the call... receives equal provision... those who worked all day and those who worked just a few hours. Those who started early... and those who were hired late.
Of course, such grace always elicits the cry of unfairness! “We were here first. We’ve been here longer. We’ve got more invested. We deserve more because we’ve done more.”
But in the kingdom, everything gets turn upside down, in order to make it right-side up! The first shall be last, and the last shall be first! God’s concept of fairness doesn’t always equate to our idea of fairness.
This parable from Jesus... reminds us that the Good News of Christ comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.
What’s fair and what’s right, in the kingdom of God, is established by God, not by our standards or our sense of merit. As we live life in God’s kingdom (a life that is here, and is at the same time, yet-to-come) – we live life in the presence of Christ – and God in Christ is generous to a fault... His generosity offends us and baffles us.
And it offends and baffles because, truth be told, because we’re tempted to believe that somehow those called to the vineyard first and early are more deserving of God’s generosity, love, and forgiveness. We’re tempted to believe that we actually earn more of God’s love and mercy and grace than others. An even worse... is the temptation to think that it’s somehow too late to accept the Master’s invitation to work in God’s vineyard.
The good news is that God’s grace is so great and so surprising that it can provide enough no matter how late in the day it is – on the deathbed, in the jail cell, after repeated failures – because the one who receives cannot add anything to the grace... they simply receive it in order for it to do its life-sustaining work. Even as the sun sets on this life, it’s never too late to accept God’s Amazing Grace.
And it’s never too soon for the rest of us to begin to live our belief... that God’s grace is enough. God’s daily bread and the grace of Christ make all the worldly comparisons of this life look meaningless.
We’re called to be those people who pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and to really make an effort to live that out. To live life in God’s kingdom is to live life in the sufficiency of God’s grace.
And do you know how we make the kingdom a reality? By being as generous toward God - and others - as God is towards us. It a tall order... but it’s also something we never have to do alone.
Give us this day, our daily bread... for the first will be last, and the last first. Amen.