Who is not here?
Matthew 20: 1-16 (NRSV)
1 ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 ‘About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the market-place doing nothing. 4 He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” 5 So they went.
‘He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
7 ‘“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
‘He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
8 ‘When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”
9 ‘The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
13 ‘But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
16 ‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
Last year, I managed to travel some of Europe and see cities that I had never seen before. I travelled to France, then through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. During that trip, I saw some of the most beautiful church buildings that I had ever seen. On one hand, they were magnificent gold gilded artworks, but most were museums with a humdrum of tourists accompanying their cameras to capture the finest art these ecclesiastical masterpieces had to offer.
But I stumbled on a small church in the corner of Berlin. A church that had been burned out during the war and whose small congregation had decided never to restore it. The walls were bare red brick and the cross that hung from the ceiling had been made from old piping that had been damaged in the fire.
Rows and rows of old wooden pews filled the space.
As I walked around the building, I came to a sign which was titled ‘Be a people of the pew’ and below it was this quote:
‘Let us ask ourselves: Who is not here because they almost never are? Bring to mind some of those faces and ponder why they are not among us. Who is alienated from us, and why is that so?’
It made me think of this parable Jesus told about the workers. You see, it was common for the best workers to get the early jobs, the profitable jobs. The second best and third best would be called on later in the day. But the last to ever be asked to work would be the marginalised, the disabled, the poor, the weak in heart and in strength, the widow, the criminal, the ill.
We can be a little like that in church. When we sit in our pews and our chairs, those around us are those we know, a breath of familiarity, a clique of family. Perhaps God is calling his church in these days to remember the ones who want to work for him but are never asked by those who already do.
Lord, implant your
word of truth in our lives
your love in our hearts
and the message of Christ
on our lips so that those who
want to work but are never
asked, finally find their place.