Practicing Good Order

Lent 2, March 1, 2015                        Matthew 20:1-19        Practicing Good Order

Now, not to get too literal with you here, but as a person with a double a at the beginning of her last name, I was first a lot in school growing up. I don’t know if things have changed much in education since the late 70s into the 80s, but I was often seated near the door, was asked to run to the office, was first in line at times – not all the time. And then, when it seemed like it would really matter, my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Kragness, would delight in going in reverse alphabetical order. Like on report card day. Or getting in line to do something fun. I swear, because of the automatic default the double a brought, it was the times when it seemed like it mattered when the alphabetical order would be dismissed.

The last will be first, the first will be last. How many times have you said that or has someone said it to you in the face of your rising righteous indignation at having to wait for something or not being where you thought you were in the pecking order. And it never sooths you, right, but is meant to sort of rub your nose in it. “well, look where you thought you were and look where you actually are.”

Things are out of order today, aren’t they? But let me set things in order a bit first. You need to know where this story fits into the book of Matthew. This story comes right after Peter has just asked Jesus, “so a, what sort of fringe benefits can we expect from following you? I mean, we’ve given up our whole lives to follow you…is there a dental plan – what?” What will they be given in return for this loyalty, this faithfulness? So Jesus answers Peter’s question with today’s story. What should you expect? Well, whatever your expectations are, they’ll be reverse.

And then, right after this story is told, perhaps the words still hanging in the air, James and John’s mother comes to plead their case, insisting they get the best seats in the house, on the right and left of Jesus. Jesus tells her the best seats are in the shape of a cross.

It’s no wonder that the church is often seen as a club of insiders, patting ourselves on our backs for being so good, certain of our seating near Jesus, awaiting our certain reward. And, get this, it’s on Peter that Jesus says he’ll build his church. At least Peter was brave enough to ask what everyone else was thinking! “Yah, what do we get out of this?”

Today and always, as followers of Jesus, we are told to get to the back of the line. And here’s the thing: we get no less than anyone else. And we get no more.

In a scene from the Louie C.K. show, Louie talks with his daughters about fairness as he is preparing a special meal for them. He has an extra slice of mango left over after making smoothies for his two daughters, and so he offers it to his oldest, Lilly. Not surprising, the younger daughter, Jane, takes some issue with this apparent injustice.

“She got a mango popsicle and I didn’t,” she whines, although the so-called popsicle really just is a slice of fruit speared with a fork. But the fact that her sister got one and she didn’t makes it the most important slice of mango in the world at that moment.

“That’s right,” he says, and continues cooking. Sometimes she gets things you don’t and sometimes, it goes the other way. That’s just how life works.

“But daddy,” Jane pleads, “it’s not fair!”

“Who said anything about fair?” he asks, a little incredulous. “You were just fine without it until she got it. What’s the problem?”

“It’s just not fair,” she insisted. “If she gets one, I should get one too.”

“Look,” he says, “turning toward her and leaning down to meet her eyes “the only time you need to worry about what’s your neighbor’s bowl is if you’re checking to make sure they have enough.” [1]

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? We often think we’ve worked harder or been the one to plan adequately and show up on time with the homework done. We’re the ones who have put in the time, sweated the most, sacrificed the most. We don’t want what we’ve been given – we want more. We expect more, based on what we think others do or don’t deserve. When in reality, following Jesus means we should be looking in other people’s bowls to make sure they have enough and to help them get enough if they don’t.

Which is the deal when you follow Jesus. Jesus reverses everything and levels the playing ground. And do you know what that reality was? The landowner gave them enough to live on for the day. Everyone got to eat! Everyone had enough. Not some to put away for later. Not too much as that they’d have to fret about storage and spoiling. But enough. For everyone.

God’s justice means that there is enough. Are we able to see it that way and to see that we are involved in everyone having enough? How is it we are asked to give so that others have enough?

Seeking our own justice, as opposed to God’s justice, often involves time lines and spread sheets and bean counters. Seeking our own justice often makes us feel good, evens things out. Makes things fair.

Seeking God’s justice means we are equal to everyone else. And everyone is equal to us.

Seeking God’s justice means opening our hands and speaking out for all of God’s enough to be shared instead of hoarded.

Seeking God’s justice means you’re gonna be asked to go to the back of the line and then speak for those who haven’t even thought about even getting in line. Or act for those who cannot get a leg up.

The sheet of paper that was included in your weekly lifts up the way we want to live together as River of Hope, knowing full well that we will mess it up and that God will remain stupidly in love with and faithful to us. It is not so much law as it is our stab at following scripture and therefore Jesus into daily living. Seeking God’s justice as a way of being River of Hope? Super scary. Because suddenly, we could be mistaken for “those people.” In today’s scripture, the laborers who were hired first and worked all day were mad to lumped into the same category as “those people” saying, You’ve made us just like them. You’ve made us equal to them! Seeking God’s justice, following Jesus causes us to get lumped in with “those people” gets us yelled at. Like being a church that will marry same sex partners in the name of Jesus. Like being a church that shows up in bars and restaurants and parks and riversides insisting that God is there in the people we meet – “those people” in “that bar.”

God’s justice? Well, it’s not always going to look like we think it ought to look.

So you know what? Just go ahead and get to the back of the line. Because this line is like no other line you’ve ever been in. The beginning is the end and the end is the beginning and no one knows who is in front of whom. All we know is that it is God’s line and we are right where we belong.