Thursday, January 31, 2013

Be Patient, Focus on Others Not Yourself ***

S. Matthew 20: 1 – 28

O. The parable comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to payment after working for a landowner of a vineyard. Another teaching where two disciples look to future placement in heaven.

A. There are many teaching moments within this parable involving payment for work at a vineyard. The landowner hires people at the beginning of the day, later in the morning, at noon, early and late in the afternoon as well. At the end of the day, he pays them all the same wage. Those that had toiled in the fields since the beginning of the day were upset at this. The landowner responds, and Jesus continues after the telling of the parable.
‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? . . . I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind of others?'
Jesus says:
‘So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.’
When good things happen to others, or someone receives more than us for equal work, we have a choice. We can see it as unfair, or we can be jealous of their good fortune. Both of these choices don’t serve us or God. Instead, we could find our situation blessed and have good will for the good fortunes of others.

The last statement by Jesus seems like a lesson on patience.  Those who wait for others to be first now will go first later. Patience is a crucial aspect on this path. We must not wish ill will to those who have good fortune today, nor must we expect good fortune for ourselves today. Our good fortune will come in time, and when it does, we will be first to receive it.

Then, Jesus talks with the mother of James and John. She wants assurance that her sons will be on either side of Jesus in heaven. Jesus responds not with an answer, but a question.
‘You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?’
‘Oh yes,’ they replied, ‘we are able!’
Jesus told them, ‘You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.
Here Jesus shows that this life is about pain and suffering, and it’s a bitter cup that we all, including Jesus, must drink. There is no way to remove ourselves from this painful truth of living. We also have no right to direct placement, good will or good fortune on ourselves or others. We must lead a good life by doing good acts for all others. We must be patient as our good fortune will come, but it does not have to come right now by our acts today.

Jesus is also saying here that we can all walk the path he is taking. We can serve others; we can heal others; we can give our lives for the benefit of all others. If we don’t feel we can, we’re not seeing the potential of this life and our impact on this world.

Jesus then sits down with all the disciples, as they were concerned after hearing about this conversation.
‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ 
The way in which we wield power and authority is important. To simply tell others what to do and how to do it isn’t a worthwhile use of that power and authority. We must live by example, as Jesus has done. Jesus was born to be a leader, but that did not mean others served him. In fact, he served all, through his acts and eventually through his own death. Our good acts and even our death cannot take away our good fortune in heaven.

P. May I focus on serving others today.

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