Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 20th September 2020
Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-24,27; Matthew 20:1-16
like to tell you a story about my family. My grandmother – my nan – became a Christian as an adult. Her husband didn’t approve of it, and would only grudgingly let her go to church. “God” was not to be talked about in the house.
This was a really hard thing for my nan, who had discovered this great joy that comes with knowing our Lord Jesus. With the zeal of many a convert, she wanted to talk about it all the time! But he was having none of it.
My nan was upset, of course – but she did as he instructed her. Partly this was because she was of a generation where husbands ruled the roost – but she also read in her Bible that she should submit to her husband, that she should be patient in prayer – and so the only time in that house that God was mentioned in front of my grandfather was once, when he swore after dropping something: my older brother, then only about five years old, said, “That’s not very Christian!”
In his last years, though, my grandfather, too, became a practicing Christian, and the name of God was once again used in his house. He died ten days after I was born, and I never met him, but he received the reward that was owed to him.
Stories like his are often called eleventh-hour conversions, and we get that idea from Jesus’s parable today.
On the one hand, the workers who are hired first seem to have a point. They’ve worked hard all day for a denarius – which is the standard wage for a day’s labour. It’s not that they’re being paid an unfair wage. But looking at the men who were hired last, and seeing them receive the same wage that they were promised, for almost no work – it feels unfair.
We have a maxim which I’m sure was the case in the time of Jesus: “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” You earn your money – it isn’t just given to you.
And we can sometimes think this way about our religion, too.
What makes someone a “Good Christian” – what makes them deserve that title? We might think that they are someone who leads a good life. Who does the right thing – and who doesn’t do the wrong thing. Someone who comes to Mass each week and reads. Someone, dare I say, who always puts something in the plate!
But these aren’t qualifiers of a “Good Christian”. Christian values, as we sometimes call general decency, do not a Christian make – and someone can be a Christian whilst also being not very good at the “Christian values”. A Christian is someone who knows that they have faults, and who wants to face them. Even if they take two steps forward and one step back, even if they aren’t “respectable” – after all, look at the people Jesus spent most of his time with.
A Samaritan woman who had a bad name in her village. Incompetent fishermen. Two blokes with short tempers. And a tax collector – who was essentially the first century equivalent of a loan shark. Jesus said, “Those that are well have no need of a doctor – but the sick do. I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Now we might think that Jesus is having a dig at us – if we think that we’re generally doing quite well. But let’s not forget that we’re none of us perfect. If any perfect person came to Church I’d tell them there was nothing for them here. We start each Mass by confessing our sins, and at the altar we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the denarius we are all given by the Master – whether we started work in the first hour or the eleventh, and whether we work our socks off or we’re a bit lazy and stand around not doing much – figuratively.
So, my dear friends, let us never think that we or anyone else isn’t “good enough” for God – if they desire his love, if we desire his love, then that is the only qualification needed. Everything else follows from that. I said just now that Jesus spent most of his time with people thought of as undesireables – but he didn’t leave them were they were. He restored them, he caused them to leave the ways of the past and walk in his future. Jesus turned water into wine. Think what he can do with us!