This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
God’s Promise Realized through Faith
13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,17as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already* as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.22Therefore his faith* ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’23Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone,24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
My previous four blogs are all relevant to this one: I’ve been following Paul’s message to Christians in Rome, that the heart of Christianity is a relationship with God rather than adherence to religious law. I’ve been re-translating the Greek “pistis” (faith) as trust, and “dikaiosune” (righteousness) as rightness, as the older English translations have taken on overtones not intended by Paul. In this passage Paul illustrates what he means by trust. In the old story God promises the aged Abraham that he’ll be the father of many nations, and although this seems impossible -he and his wife are far too old and have no children of their own-he trusts the promise and journeys as instructed by God. The promise is a very intimate thing betwen God and this couple-the ultimate fruitfulness of their human lives is at stake and so is the credibility of God. Their trust allows God to do what he has promised and is reckoned by God as “rightness of life”: God trusts them to live in a way that reflects his holiness. The promise to Abraham “and his descendants” , Paul says, is based on kindness (grace) rather than religious law, so that his Gentile descendants, who know nothing of the religious law can inherit the promise along with his Jewish descendants.
Paul believes God’s promise is kept by his gift of Jesus through whose life and death and resurrection the intimacy between God and humanity is confirmed and renewed.
Some of this material seems redundant to us who have never doubted that God’s love is meant for all humanity. Paul and many of the Jewish Christians in Rome were faced with the difficulty of their Jewish faith in the religious law and in Israel as God’s chosen people. Paul’s insistence that the intimate relationship of trust is the basis of Christian living, was and is profoundly liberating.
The Labourers in the Vineyard
20‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.2After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage,* he sent them into his vineyard.3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place;4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?”7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.”9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.*10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.*11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,12saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?*14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”*16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’*
I don’t suppose that Jesus was trying to teach a lesson in rural economics but for those of us living in economies with major unemployment especially amongst the young, the behaviour of the landowner is instructive: if he uses a man’s labour at all he pays him a day’s wage because men can only be available for work if they earn enough to keep them and their families alive. To pay him less is to state that you don’t care if he lives or dies. The wealth of a community is its people and its land; all other wealth is derived from these either by just dealing or by robbery.
The generosity of the landowner is his gift of the means of life to all employees. We do wonder if any workers will turn up at 9am the next day, but of course, it’s story with but one point to make: God never gives less than the gift of life: to dutiful people, he gives life; the converted sinners, he gives life; to Jews he gives life; to Gentiles he gives life. Only those who are envious could possibly wish anyone to receive less. God’s saving justice inaugurates a climate of generosity.