Friday, September 18

Generosity in a stingy time

Matthew is the only gospel that includes this story and it expands on helps explain the previous chapter in which a rich man walks away from Christ and the disciples, who had “left everything and followed” Christ asks, “What will we have?” v. 27. Jesus tells them that they will judge Israel and that anything they have lost—houses, brother, sister, parents, children, or land “for my name's sake” will inherit eternal life and an overabundance of what has been lost. Jesus summarizes this teaching in 19:30 and 20:16. They aren’t exactly the same but their similarity tie them to one another; “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” and “So the last will be first, and the first last”.

The story that leads off chapter 20 is as normal to life in the first century as commuting is for us. A vineyard owner, quite possibly during harvest, makes repeated trips to a common area where people gathered for work. He offers to pay the going rate of a ‘denarius’ for each man’s work. Later, at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and as late as 5 pm hiring people with the agreement in verse 4 “whatever is right I will give you.”.

At closing time, the owner pays all the workers the same wage—one denarius. The ones that worked one hour as well as the ones that worked a 12-hour day earned the same. Those who worked all day were upset. They expected to get more because of the time they’d work. It wasn’t fair to their way of seeing things. They were upset that their boss would equate their value with that of men who only worked an hour.

The Begrudging Spirit

Those who felt cheated had accepted the world’s way of negotiating their pay which, “is part of the value system or the world…a system [that] uses productivity to determine wages (Baeta).” Our Lord’s Kingdom doesn’t work the way the world does. It is a different value system in which God treats us “not according to our works but according to His compassion and mercy (ibid.).”

The first workers, when confronted with apparent unfairness responded in terms of self-interest. “He was only thinking about himself, not about the generosity and intervention of the landowner or the fortune of the other laborers (Wilkins 665)." Like those hired earlier the landowner pays them a fair amount (Blomberg 302).

Don’t be shocked by this for it is evident in the lives of others in Gods’ Word. In Exodus 16 The grumbling of the people is repeated 15 times in these short verses. They aim their grumbling at Moses and Aaron, but Aaron informs the people, “in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against the Lord” v7. At the end of Jonah’s ministry, the prophet is left alone and unhappy because God forgave the Ninevites. Jonah is angry over a plant God allowed to grow and then destroyed. When asked by God in verse 9, “God said to Jonah, ‘Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?’ and Jonah said, ‘Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!’.” If you have never read Jonah it ends with him sulking on a hillside overlooking the city that had received the gracious mercy of God.

The Grace of God

The landowner—God answers his workers and us by reminding us that he will do what he wants with his resources. Jesus’ response to one of the grumblers, ‘Friend’ is not friendly. It appears two other places in this gospel “and in each case the person is in the wrong (Augsburger and Ogilvie).” Both are in Matthew 22 and one identifies an invitee to a wedding feast who couldn’t bother to dress for it. The other instance is Jesus’ response to Judas’ kiss.

God’s generosity is at work here in these stories. It will come to fruition in less than a few months when Jesus is nailed to a cross and executed. The grace of God speaks to our culture today here in the U.S. when it comes to race and poverty. The teaching of this story is not meant to promote economic equality or a higher minimum wage, unlike the statement, “This theme of economic and political reversal is a red thread throughout Jesus’s teaching (DeCort).” No! Jesus’ point is that God is gracious, more gracious than the world could fathom.

"In the kingdom where grace reigns supreme, the equality of saints is significantly conditioned only by the priority of the last. The sovereignty of grace relegates the doctrine of rewards to a position of lesser importance (Hagner 573)."

What we ‘get out of’ being saved is not as important to God as ‘being real in loving’ others. When we question God’s grace or ‘begrudge’ in verse 15 ponhro,s is to judge someone as evil, wicked, sinful, and even the Evil One (Wilkins 665).”

We need to be on our toes when it comes to this because some of us have been following Christ for many years. They run the risk of thinking they’re more important because they know where the bodies are buried. Some have belonged long enough they seem to be long-timers. Such need to guard against making their desires normative for all Christ-followers. New believers also have to become grounded so that they do not believe that ‘finally the church can know what it needs to do.’

If you watched the news this week you saw a great human example of God’s graciousness when Lisa and Joe Waldner who offered the use of their travel trailer Pikkaart to Lee and Church Borgia who evacuated their home and ended up in their van in the Oregon State Fairgrounds. The Waldner’s settled the couple and their pets in the trailer.

Although a bit hesitant to loan out his trailer Joe Waldner says, “He has regretted it for a moment (Orti).” Ellen Donovan, a Red Cross volunteer described this couple’s generous nature,

"He went and bought a generator for them because there are no hookups over there, and every 12 hours he drives over there and he fills the generator with gas and just does a general check-up, nobody asked this man to do this, he and his wife did this on their own (Orti)."

This is a  human example of living a generous life. I do not know the spiritual nature of the couple, but I have to say they are a wonderful reflection of God’s graciousness toward each of us. Let us pray.


Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Baeta, William. "Don't Begrudge God's Generosity." Sermon Central. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?." Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?." Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Nikolic, Isabella. "Pensioner Is Arrested for Making 24,000 Complaint Calls To Telephone Company In Japan." MSN. 2019. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Orti, Camila. "Strangers Lend RV To Displaced Couple Sleeping In Van At Oregon State Fairgrounds." KPTV.com. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Works Consulted

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Barclay, Newman M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993 : Print.

Baeta, William. "Don't Begrudge God's Generosity." Sermon Central. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Bernhard, Toni. "20 Quotations on Generosity: A Profound Act Of Kindness." Psychology Today 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?" Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Nikolic, Isabella. "Pensioner Is Arrested for Making 24,000 Complaint Calls To Telephone Company In Japan." MSN. 2019. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Orti, Camila. "Strangers Lend RV To Displaced Couple Sleeping In Van At Oregon State Fairgrounds." KPTV.com. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Pikkaart, Curry. "Can You Live with Grace?" Sermon Central. 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

 

Saturday, September 12

Count to 100

 Ernest Hemingway begins his story, “Capital of the World” by describing a joke in Madrid in which

“A father who came to Madrid and inserted and advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: ‘PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTATA NOON TUESDAY ALL IF FORGIVENG PAPA, and how a squadron of Guardia Civil had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement (Hemingway 44).”

The legend may have struck Hemingway as funny but there may well be no greater need for everyone than to hear all is forgiven. That is the truth of following Jesus. I could not believe God loved me and there are times even today I cannot fathom that truth. But it is absolutely, 100%, true. And the release from our past mistakes, crimes, sins, and errors may be the number one need we all face in this life.

Peter doesn’t ask his question about how many times in order to find a way to get back at someone. He knows that God graciously set up sacrifices that were the means of making atonement. And the teaching in Judaism “is that three times was enough to show a forgiving spirit (Wilkins 622).” Peter is going above and beyond the law’s requirement but for those who have been confronted with the reality of God’s Kingdom and Jesus. That encounter changes everything. Thus, Jesus tells Peter “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” v.23. Most of us have read seventy times seven, but the most common Greek reading is seventy-seven (Blomberg 282).

It doesn’t really matter because Jesus’ point is that there is no top end to how many times we forgive. “One is to keep on forgiving far beyond the point where one has lost count of the wrongs (Nolland 755).” The forgiveness that we are to extend is based “squarely on the foundation of God’s forgiveness of the disciple (Hagner 537)” or us.” The reason for such a mindful forgiving is because of the scope of sin which God forgives through His Son on the cross.

God’s Forgiveness

The parable or story Jesus presents to His disciples is unbelievable. Assume a talent of silver equaled 6000 drachmas we’re talking about one of these paying for a whole year for 24 people at our current 40-work week. A talent is not a monetary denomination but a measure. This may well be “more than all the actual coinage in circulation in Egypt at the time (Keener).”

The point wasn’t the amount the servant owed but the ludicrous claim that he would pay it back. We may see selling a person and their family into slavery as barbaric but to do that in order to pay off debts was “extremely common (Blomberg 283)” This man went before the King with nothing to bargain with but he emerges burden free. It is not an exaggeration to say, “is life has been transformed (Nolland 758).”

The king takes pity on this servant. It is the word used for Jesus having compassion on the crowds who followed and sought Him. It is also used of the pity with which Jesus is moved to heal the blind lepers in Matthew 20 in which Jesus heals two blind men. “Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back (Lamott).”

Forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be separated and that is what makes offering grace so difficult. We fail at this, but God does it perfectly. “To forgive means that one genuinely loves, and this love can move beyond the issue to the person and that one cares more about the person than about what he or she has done (Augsburger).” What makes God’s forgiveness so overwhelming for many of us is that any forgiveness given by God is activated only within a relationship with God.

Our Forgiving

The contrast in Jesus’ story is how unforgiving this same servant is as he searches out someone who owes him a paltry sum of money. I love how Keener in his commentary writes, “apparently the forgiven slave, instead of internalizing the principle of grace, had decided to become ruthlessly efficient in his exacting of debts (Keener)."  

“Forgiveness is never easy; it is hard. It is the most difficult thing in the universe. Forgiveness means that the forgiving person as the innocent one resolves his own wrath over the sin of the guilty one and lets the guilty one go free. To forgive means that one genuinely loves… Forgiveness frees the person for the options of living. Our refusal to forgive is a power play that limits the offender, that holds the guilty “under one’s thumb,” or power. But such forgiveness is always in relationship, hence the condition of repentance. It is not a package that one accepts and runs away with. It is only known in reconciliation (Augsburger).”

Jesus’ point is that when we, the hugely indebted servant, come across someone who has a relatively small amount to pay off, the second servant, God is watching. Jesus summarizes His story, by saying, “And in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” Vv.34-35.

Have you ever told your kid to tell another kid, “your sorry”? Were they sorry? Maybe when they are three but try that with a 12-year-old you may hear words and even see a general acknowledgment of the other person. But odds are you won’t get compliance with what you wanted. “From your hearts” calls for sincerity, not just appearances (Hagner 540).  

If we are going to accept the forgiveness of the great burden of sin which nailed Jesus to a cross we had better realize that to not forgive “each other for sins that remain trivial in comparison (Deidun 219)" to our own debt owed to God. I want to end by addressing the worry that we’re being too permissive about God’s gift of forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t worried about giving people permission to sin.

He wasn't afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do. He's angry about the party. He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue--that music, dancing, and a fattened calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law. And to that, Jesus has the father say only one thing: "Cut that out! We're not playing good boys and bad boys anymore. Your brother was dead and he's alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping (Capon)."

We’ve known people who can’t see past God as a bookkeeper with credits and debits listed in the columns of our lives. But in truth,
the column that contains the red-inked entries of our liabilities can’t be read because they are covered with the blood of Jesus, our Savior. We are forgiven because of Jesus. We are forgiven because of God’s love. We are forgiven and reminded of it by the Holy Spirit that lives within us. Let us pray.

 

Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Capon, Robert Farrar. "Between Noon and Three." Christianity Today. Web. 12 Sept. 2020.

Deidun, T. "The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant (Mt. 18:23–35)." BTB 6 (1976): 219. Print.

Lamott, Anne. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Riverhead Trade, 2006. Print.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Print.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

 Works consulted

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Capon, Robert Farrar. "Between Noon and Three." Christianity Today. Web. 12 Sept. 2020.

Deidun, T. "The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant (Mt. 18:23–35)." BTB 6 (1976): 219. Print.

Lamott, Anne. Plan B: Further Thoughts om Faith. Riverhead Trade, 2006. Print.

Newman, Barclay M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993 : n. pag. Print.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Print.

Liddell, H.G. A lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English lexicon 1996 : n. pag. Print.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

Story, Norm. "Waiting for Someone To Say Grace." Sermon Central. 2004. Web. 7 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.