Text: Matthew 20:1-16
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was the Annual Fun run – there were all kinds of competitors – elite runners in training for big events, people who had been training all year, with all the gear on, people in silly costumes running for charity, grandparents desperate to prove they were still fit, and children eager to show they were fitter still.
Off went the gun and they ran forth, graceful and lumbering, fleet of foot and clumsy. Over the 10 mile course, they put in all their effort and saw the fruits of their long hours of training: the loneliness of the long distance runner.
And then, in the last mile, a small boy, Jonny, joined with them. Dressed in a T-Shirt and Tracksuit bottoms, he wasn’t very fast, or particularly co-ordinated, and all the runners passed him, but as he hit the finishing line, he was laughing and celebrating like all the rest.
When they came to hand out the medals, the organiser went to hand a medal to the boy.
“But he only ran the last mile” they murmured, “It’s not fair. Why does he deserve a medal, when we ran all this way…”
Sensing their disquiet, the organiser called the boy forward and rolled up one of his trouser legs to reveal a prosthetic, false foot.
“This was the first race that Jonny has undertaken since he lost his foot in an accident. For many of you it was just 10 miles, but for Jonny it was a whole marathon.”
We run the race set before us, with Christ as our goal, as our trainer, as our starting point, and we run for the reward of eternal life. One person can’t have more eternal life than another: the reward is the same for all.
The race, the work in the vineyard is not of our choosing. It is not us who sets the rules, the boundaries, the workload.
It is not up to us who will be paid, this is not a parable about OUR hard work, OUR effort, OUR reward, but it is about the graciousness, the benevolence, the kindness and the generosity of God – a God who gives the best thing he has – himself – and the only reward any of us could ever hope or pray for – the gift of eternal life.
Grace – freely given, thoroughly undeserved and outrageously unwarranted is distributed widely and to all. When we are gathered in God’s glorious presence, we may be very surprised by those whom we are sharing the banquet with – colour and nation, lifestyle and sexuality, rich, poor, pious and profane and only then will we truly begin to appreciate the outrageous possibilities that this Gospel parable has to offer the whole world – a world which will be saved long before it is condemned by the loving, ever-living God.
Whereever, my dear friends, you start your race; whatever time you begin in God’s vineyard, and whatever fruit you produce on your watch, have the faith to see that your reward is for you, and let others fret about theirs. All is fair. All is good. All is right in God’s wonderful, all-embracing, all-transforming love.