The day on which the people of Nineveh repented was a very bad day for the prophet Jonah. Most prophets would’ve been thrilled with the success that Jonah had realized- but not Jonah. As he stood in Ninevah and watched the Assyrian residence of that city repent and turn to God, as the result of his prophecy to them, his heart was seething with anger. He railed at God telling God, “I’m angry enough to die!”
In his mind the whole situation was cruelly unfair – what rate did the Assyrians have to be spared from God’s wrathful desctruction? The Assyrians who had pillaged and plundered Isreal time and again, year after year? The Assyrians who had taken Israelites away in chains, to live in exile far from their beloved homeland? The Assyrians who had never before cared anything for God’s word or will.
And it wasn’t fair that he, Jonah, a faithful Israelite had been called on to be the prophet who had made the Assyrian repentance possible. He had wanted no part of it and even tried to flee to Tarshish which was in the opposite direction from Ninevah. But God had worked it so that Jonah had been thrown overboard from his Tarshish bound vessel and been carried to the shores of hated Nineveh in the belly of a whale. It’s hard to have a good day as a prophet when you feel like just so much fish vomit. But, the call was then crystal clear to Jonah-he was to prophesy in Nineveh. But he did it grudgingly and the outcome made him cry out that he would rather die than live with this injustice – the injustice that Israel’s most hated enemy should be saved. It just wasn’t fair!
It just wasn’t fair! That is what the day laborers told the landowner. It just wasn’t fair that they who had worked the whole day, received the same pay as those would work half a day or less. After all in their minds they had “born the burden of the day in the scorching heat”, while the other part day laborers had not worked as heard. How could the landowner dare to pay them the same wage? It just wasn’t fair!.
It just isn’t fair! How many times have we felt that same way? Like Jonah, or the day laborers in the gospel parable, we look on in unbelief and sometimes even disgust as others receive things that they don’t appear to have earned, or deserved. And this feeling of injustice is only magnified when we view those seemingly unearned blessings from a place or situation which we have not chosen for ourselves – from a shore where we have landed after having been spit up, as it were, from within the belly of the twists and turns and paradoxes of this life.
No we don’t like it when we, who try so hard to be faithful, seem to finish last behind those who in our mind seem less deserving. And we might say, “no wait a gosh darn minute, this just isn’t fair!” And with Jonah, we stand on the shore of our discontent and shaker fisted heaven and we accuse God-“this is not the way it is supposed to be is it? what about the first being last in the landscaping first? We supposed to finish ahead at some point? Are we supposed to get moved to the head of the line while those who have lived on top get moved to the back?
Well not according to this morning’s readings. These readings point out the very real possibility that the reversal will be no rehearsal at all, but rather an evening out in other words the line won’t be turned back to front, but rather everyone in the line will be brought to stand shoulder to shoulder and each will receive enough last will be first and the first will be last because first and last will be the same thing the kingdom of God is not about just desserts the kingdom of God it’s about abundant mercy and generosity.
Writing in the Christian century magazine the Rev. Anthony be Robinson talks about is vegetable garden and how it relates to all of this. Restaurant Robinson rights:
“there is a secret about my vegetable garden. The part of the garden that is really flourishing is not the rose that I so carefully planted. The part that is growing gangbusters is a surprise of pumpkins and zucchini that I never knowingly planted. Other seeds I measured out padded into the earth watered and weeded. The pumpkin in the zucchini came as a surprise. Apparently they were in the compost that I cast haphazardly around early in the spring. It’s hard to take credit for their flourishing. They remind me that even though I have put labor and intention into the rest of the garden, it too, finally has the quality of gift-of an abundance and beauty that is not in exact proportion to my labor or school but wondrously exceeds them.
Are we really like the all day workers? Or are we the inheritors of gift and grace, of zucchini and pumpkin, of mercy and blessings that are not strictly correlated to our efforts and virtues, and are far greater and wilder than we imagined or dessert? Is it possible that from gods perspective we’ve all shown up at 5 PM? When are only measure is fairness, when are preoccupation is are just desserts, we lose touch with a sense of grace and graciousness. We forget about the wild zucchinis the people who love us more than we deserve, and the God who has extended generosity and forgiveness to us. True compassion is probably most evident not win the deserving share their well-deserved surplus, but when those who feel that they have been blessed and forgive and beyond what they have right or reason to expect, express their gratitude. Many of commented in recent years about the hard edge of anger building up in our society. Could it be that when life is reduced to”You get what you deserve” and to economic values alone, hearts untracked and compassion and kindness dry up? Perhaps knowing ourselves as receivers of astonishing mercy is what opens our hearts and our hands to others.” (the Christian century magazine, 8/25 through 9/1/ 93)
I want to close now with a prayer that comes from the Reverend William Willamon- let us pray:
Christ or compassionate friend and Savior give us grace so to deal with others as you have graciously don’t with us relieve us of our desired to keep score, to set too high standards and to punish ourselves and others when we do not reach those standards. Deliver us from putting accounts of all the ways that others have offended us, Ron & Donna’s, or caused us fine. Help us grow past the place of taking full credit for accomplishments, where we see all of our blessings as our own achievements, and miss seeing your hand at work in our lives. I was versus one, give us the grace to be more gracious with the world and with ourselves. Enable us to see that all of us live upheld by your love, not by efforts. We decided to great lover of souls, give us the grace to be more gracious . Amen (Pulpit Resource, Vol. 27, No. 3, Year A, 1999)