St Andrew’s Anglican Church Indooroopilly | Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
19 and 20 September 2020
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Generosity – A sermon offered by The Reverend Ann Edwards
My husband asked me this week what I was going to preach on – I said to him that I’m going to preach about how women are more generous than men and the poor are more generous than the rich. He stopped, and said to me – “you’re kidding right?”
I was and I wasn’t. Let’s put that response in some context – Statistics show us that Australians lead the median wage in the world and come second in average wage, on par with Switzerland and the US; by world standards, we are relatively rich.i That being said, it is undeniable that within our community, there is poverty, and that the gap between those with wealth and those without grows and the inequality comes at a real cost to us all.ii Australian women continue to earn 14% less than men for the same hours workediii and bear the a greater burden of unpaid care work.iv This is not one group against another – there are so many layers here in wealth, lack of wealth, and opportunity, and these examples just scratch the surface. So, the parable of the vineyard remains as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago, so let’s explore what it says for us.
Jesus’s parables grab people – we recognise the underlying motivations and forces at work. Read in isolation, it is very easy for us to identify with the first workers in today’s parable who were feeling ripped off. They had negotiated a wage, a typical day’s wage, and had worked as agreed for that reimbursement. But now, lo and behold, others worked alongside them for a fraction of the time and were paid the same. I’d be feeling a bit ripped off too.
It’s unjust. It’s not fair. The common reading is that this story places faith before works, and yes, that’s easy to see. However, as always with Jesus’s parables, to begin to plumb their depths we need to first look at the context of the story, and then explore it from the perspective of everyone in the story.
Jesus told this story straight after his encounter with a young man, who was very rich and very faithful to the law, who had asked what was needed for eternal life. Jesus gave a surprising answer – telling him to give all his money to the poor and follow, at which the man left sad and grieving.
The young man had earned his wealth and had done everything right by the religious law he had been taught. He was what we might call today a poster child – he had things sorted, and surely was first in line for great blessing. Instead, Jesus threw him an enormous curveball. Called to follow, to work alongside Jesus’s disciples, and to be lavishly generous to the poor, he was unable to let go of the status and security of his achievements for the unknown. I’m sure we can all identify with this young man in some way. But this young man was sad as he left Jesus.
Peter then asks – what about us? We have left everything for you.
Jesus responds… 29everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold,[d] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
God will honour those that follow, and today’s parable explores what Jesus means when he said the last will be first.
This vineyard reminds me a little of the school sports field, where kids are picked one by one by captains for a team. The same kids are always left to last.
The first workers were hired early hours of the morning, a wage set, and they were off. But what about the late workers? These were people that weren’t picked for work by anyone else either. The generous landowner keeps going back, and seeing people out of work, hires them at 9 in the morning, and again at 3pm – for the latecomers, instead of assuring them a day’s wage, the landowner promises only to pay “what is right”. At 3pm, surely a full workforce had been put together. Yet at 5pm, when the daylight was nearly gone, the landowner found others standing around. He asked ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ Because no one has hired us. Let’s sit with that for a moment. No one has hired us. A full day has gone, you’re not even the last picked, you’re the overlooked. There is no wage, what will you do?
The unemployed workers at 9, 3 and 5 were given what looked to be a dodgy deal – come work for me and I’ll pay you what is right.
Would you let your child accept a deal like that?
But in good faith, these workers worked in the hours that were left, not knowing what to expect. Imagine standing at 5pm, wondering how you were going to feed yourself and perhaps your family. The joy, relief, and gratitude at the end of the day at the generosity of the landowner and at receiving the full day’s wage would have been palpable. This is what the wealthy landowner meant by paying what was right. They received what they needed, not what they had earned.
The rich young man that triggered our Gospel reading teaches us that defining ourselves by what we earn and achieve is a worldly habit that leads us away from Jesus and leaves us sad. From the first workers we see that God will honour work and toil, but we also understand that God’s grace doesn’t rely on our work, we are free from earning God’s acceptance. We learn from the later workers that God will find us, that God chooses us, even when the world doesn’t. We are equally valued and loved in God’s eyes. We learn from the landowner that God is generous beyond our understanding and calls us to embrace that generosity as a community.
Which brings us back to the controversy we began with.
I have noticed that in some communities I am in, women were explicitly asked to be generous. It turns out this isn’t an anomaly. Women have been shown in the psychological and economic literature to be more generous than men – it’s not a great divide but it is consistently there.v It is interesting to consider how this developed in our society. Women are differentially expected to be more generous.vi Women are expected to be less competitive. To be more collaborative. And they live up to that expectation.vii
Likewise, research consistently shows that poor people are more generous that those that are rich. The interesting thing is that in hypotheticals where poor people imagine they’re rich, they become less generous (and the rich, imagining themselves poor, become more generous). The research suggests that generosity is influenced by empathy – the poor understand what it’s like to have financial trouble, how poverty happens, and are more willing to help. The rich, when confronted with the reality of poverty, are more likely to relate to why generosity is important. And yet the poor, when placed in a hypothetical position of wealth, hold on to what they have, as though having wealth releases them from that expectation of helping another.
The research shows us that generosity isn’t defined by gender or socioeconomic status, instead, it this relationship is the result of expectation and empathy. We will behave differently according to what expects of us and how we relate to others. In our world, the work of generosity, of giving, of gracious help, is expected from those that need it most and are least able to provide it. Jesus flips this worldly thinking. The work of generosity is expected from everyone, because God is generous. Can we live in a way where God’s expectation is the underlying influence on our generosity?
On a world scale, Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole points us to an obvious conclusion – this part of the gospel is the clearest call to address the inequality of poverty.viii The wealthy landowner was generous with the unemployed, and that was surprising to the listener then and now. Poverty is more deadly than HIV/AIDS, malaria, Ebola, or the Corona virus. Are we ready to tackle it in the same way?
On a local scale, who is out there waiting for an invitation? Who needs to hear the good news – that they’re welcome just as they are? Who has been left out and overlooked? Who is doing it tough and needs a break? Do we see others with the generous eyes of God? How do we contribute to our community – according to what we will earn, by what we think others deserve, or by what is needed?
The gospel is by definition “good news”, and this story of the vineyard workers is very good news. We don’t need to negotiate and earn God’s love or our place in God’s family. Instead, we’re just called to come, to trust, and to work alongside each other as equals. And when we do that, we will realise that we’re definitely not called to grumble when God is generous to our brothers and sisters. We can celebrate that generosity with them, share in the joy of the person, because we’ve also experienced God’s grace. We know that God, the generous landlord, will welcome in all comers and give them what they need, because that is what is right. This is good news.
Paul spells this out, as only Paul can.
Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.ix
Let us pray,
May we put down the burdens of our own expectations, and accept your offer of love, grace and generosity. May our hearts be so filled, that your grace spills over and continues to draw in those that long for you, and those that the world would overlook.
In the name of Christ.
i Committee for Economic Development of Australia. (2018). Australia tops global wealth ratings [website]. https://www.ceda.com.au/Digital-hub/Blogs/CEDA-Blog/October-2018/Australia-tops-global-wealth-rankings#:~:text=While%20many%20Australians%20feel%20they,in%20median%20wealth%20per%20adult.&text=Australia’s%20average%20wealth%20per%20adult,in%20the%20world%20after%20Switzerland.
ii Wade, M. (2019, July 21). Gap between rich and poor a $247 billion drag on our wellbeing. The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/gap-between-rich-and-poor-a-247-billion-drag-on-our-wellbeing-20190721-p529bc.html
iii Workplace Gender Equality Agency. (2020). Australian Gender Pay Gap Statistics 2020. The Australian Government. https://www.wgea.gov.au/data/fact-sheets/australias-gender-pay-gap-statistics-2020
iv Workplace Gender Equality Agency. (2020). Unpaid Care Work and the Labour Market. The Australian Government. https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/australian-unpaid-care-work-and-the-labour-market.pdf
v For example, Bilén, D. and Dreber, A. and Johanneson, M. (2020). Are Women More Generous Than Men? A Meta-Analysis (2020). SSRN. https://ssrn.com/abstract=3578038 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3578038
vi Aguiar, F., Brañas-Garza, P., Cobo-Reyes, R. et al. (2009). Are women expected to be more generous? Experimental Economics 12, 93–98. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10683-008-9199-z
vii Gillard, J. & Okonjo-Iweala, N. (2020). Women and leadership. Penguin.
viii Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole (2014) Beyond Just Wages: An Intercultural Analysis of Matthew 20: 1–16, Journal of Early Christian History, 4:1, 112-134, DOI: 10.1080/2222582X.2014.11877297
ix Phillipians 1:27