Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bad Math

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Matthew 19:23- 20:28
X used to be my favorite letter. Pretty much every word with the letter X in it sounded cool: Ox, Axe, Fox, Taxi, xylophone. It was essential to Dr. Seuss, tic-tac-toe, and every treasure map. It was fun to write - especially using cursive, it didn't have multiple sounds or grammar rules (unless you're speak French), and it was worth 8 points in Scrabble!
Then came high school math, and my brief love affair with the letter X was over. You see, some unknown knucklehead decided to move X from its proper domain among letters and place it in the unholy realm of mathematics. All of the sudden I was bombarded with phrases such as "let X represent..." or "find X." I would scream in my head- "It's right there!" but no one would listen. I struggled with the subject for the rest of my high school and college career.
So imagine my chagrin when I realized that numbers were very important to the Bible. Whether an authorized census of Israel (Numbers 1:2)or an unauthorized one (2 Sam. 24:10), whether the amount of hairs on our head (Mat. 10:30), or the number of converts after Peter's first sermon (Acts 2:41), or even the number of a miraculous catch of fish (John 21:11); no matter the number, they are put there by God for a reason and should not be neglected.
"Great," I thought, "more math!" Well, yes and no. Today's parable of the hired workers is one that would drive union reps, and payroll personnel alike, just plain nuts. Look at the math involved:
A Denarius was a day's wage (Let's put that at $60, for our sake).
Each "early" worker agreed to work for that price.
Everyone received $60 for their labor.
The problem was, not everyone had worked the same number of hours.
The early birds (starting at 6am) put in a full day and earned $5 an hour.
Those hired at 9am were paid $6.66 an hour
Those hired at noon were paid $10 an hour
Those hired at 3pm were paid $20 an hour
And those hired at 5pm, who worked all of one hour, received an astonishing $60 per hour.
From a human perspective, we understand the frustrations of seeing inequity in our world. There are all sorts of positions that are underpaid, and many that are overpaid. And while most of us DON'T want communism, many of us desire more equality, where those doing the hard jobs that keep society going, would be better compensated.
But this parable is not really about rewards for service. It certainly is not about salvation (seeing as that cannot be earned or deserved- Eph. 2:1-10). It turns out that this parable is really about two things:
1. God's grace and our inability to quantify it.
No one is qualified to work for God, He owes us nothing. It is pure grace that God allows us to serve in His kingdom. It is pure grace that He rescues us from pointlessness and gives us purpose. It is pure grace that He even chooses to reward us for our efforts. It is pure grace that He even associates with such rabble as ourselves.
When you or I start to keep accounts on our service or sufferings, especially in comparison with others, we are abandoning the very grace that saved us. We become like Jonah, who cried out and received God's abundant mercy, and then belly-ached into the sunset when God extended that same mercy to the city of Nineveh. (Jon. 2:9, 4;2). Grace, mercy and the Kingdom of God does NOT make sense mathematically. If we wanted to settle our accounts with God based on actual figures, we would be in arrears up to our ears. Beyond broke. Way beyond bankrupt.
2. This parable is also about our motivation when it comes to service.
(Remember this parable takes place right after Simon Peter pointed out the disciple's "great" sacrifice. See Mt. 19:27) It is very easy to become mercenary in our relationship with God. We serve, pray, volunteer, give, etc. as long as it benefits us. After a while, we can begin to feel that our service, hard work, or lengthy faithfulness somehow means that we are owed by God. We can then look down on those who are not as involved or committed to the Kingdom of God, think ourselves as more valuable to God than they are. We start to keep spiritual report cards on ourselves and others, and get mad when things don't work out according to our sense of justice.
The point is that the real treasure is not necessarily rewards, but rather time spent with and for the King! The "early birds' were more blessed than the others, not in their monetary compensation, but by the fact they spent their entire day able to work for the Master. Everyone else wasted any of the hours when they were not serving. Those hired at the 11th hour are not to be envied because of their generous payment for not much work, they wasted 11/12ths of their life for that day. Serving Jesus Christ and His Kingdom is its own reward and blessing. So instead of being angry with those who don't do so fully, feel pity, because they are missing out on their entire reason for existence.

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