As so often happens, life came along and totally interrupted my train of thought! So rather than carrying on about the nature of church, I'll step off that track and turn my mind toward my heart's leading.
Priorities, finding balance, Sabbath rest.....My husband and I both work at jobs we love, jobs that don't necessarily respect time boundaries. We have two children who find themselves increasingly active in their own committments and we're years away from alternately freaking out/rejoicing over teenage driving licenses, so our children's commitments are our own. And we live on a beautiful acreage haven in the country that requires every drop of spare time it can wring out of us. We are tired. I long for the day I can sit and spend time reading a good book on a Saturday afternoon without feeling guilty. My husband longs for the day he can enjoy a Saturday afternoon football game without his wife making him feel guilty. We desire more time to simply be with our family and we are increasingly aware of how stress warps our environment. Something's got to give and in our equation it becomes increasingly clear that no matter how much we love our place, perhaps keeping and maintaining our country oasis isn't in our best interests. A heartwrenching decision for this family of four.
This week I preached on Jesus' most unfair parable of all - Matthew 20:1-16. This is the story of a landowner who hires workers early in the morning to harvest grapes in his vineyard promising them an honest day's wage for their work. The harvest is bountiful and so the owner makes repeated trips to the village, rounding up willing workers - at 9:00, 12:00, 3:00 and finally again at 5:00 when evening is only a few hours away. When darkness falls, the workers come trudging in to receive their pay. Those who set to work at 5:00 are paid first and they receive pay commensurate to a full day's work. This, of course, has the workers who have been laboring since 6:00 in the morning, rubbing their hands together with glee and anticipation. After all, if someone who has worked only 2 hours gets paid for 10, how much more might they expect to receive? Their minds make feverish calculations and they lose themselves in expectant thought. When finally those hired last are called to receive their wage, they step forward with eager hands thrust out to receive.......only the pay that was promised them at the start of the day, the same pay every single laborer received regardless of the time they had clocked. The 6:00 crew is understandably furious but the landowner quite calmly replies, "Take your money and go. I get to choose what I do with my cash. What's it to you if I feel like being generous to the people who came last?!"
Hmmmm. What does it all mean?
This week I looked at this story through the lens of need vs. want. This is a tension middle and upper class Americans don't do well. And I confess, one of the more unpleasant surprises about myself is how my wants continue to grow. They have a voracious appetite. When we were starting out and didn't have much, it was a lot easier to preach on simple living with a sort of self-righteous satisfaction. Now I talk about the issue with new humility as I continue to work to keep my wants in their place - not an easy task.
What if this parable is about needs vs. wants? The Bible certainly has a lot to say on the matter, so it's not a stretch to see this consistent message repeated here. God, as represented by the landowner, isn't concerned about rewarding people beyond their needs. God's intention is simply to meet needs, regardless of time invested in work. God's economy follows different rules than our own. Perhaps the landowner was aware Carl was a widower and needed to spend time at home everyday caring for his children and would only make it to the village square by late afternoon. Perhaps the landowner was aware Max showed up late because he was attending a funeral for his uncle in a neighboring village. Perhaps the landowner took into account that Jonathan, Jacob and Graham, whom he hired at the beginning of the day, were young and single with more time at their disposal and less need for income. I like the thought that in God's Kingdom all these little pieces get consideration, even if in our own they do not.
God is all about supplying needs. It's the wants that distort and disfigure humanity. I don't think God has a lot of use for wants, particularly if wants rob another of needs. God is so not a capitalist!
So I now a take a deep breath and try to see my life through this need/want prism. What do I need? What does my family need? I need, we need, time to nurture our relationships with God and with each other. We need time to enjoy one another's company. We need time to appreciate and savor this fleeting life. We need time to share ourselves, share our resources, share our lives with others. Here are our needs. Now I pray for the courage to shape our moments of daily around this most vital center and kick, most likely not all, but at least a lot of my seductive wants out our door.