Midweek Evening Meditation
Evening Prayer and Reflection for Wednesday 29th July 2020
A candle may be lit.
The Lord almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Our evening prayer is a hymn taken from night compline:
Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That you, with steadfast love, would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep.
From evil dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Tread underfoot our deadly foe
That we no sinful thought may know.
O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son;
And Holy Spirit, by whose breath
Our souls are raised to life from death.
Gospel Reading from Matthew 20: 1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Jesus tells us another parable and it’s one that is both well-known and problematic when viewed through the lenses of the society of today. How could the landowner justify paying the same rate to the poor guy who has slaved away all day and to the other who showed up right at the end of the shift? Boy did these folk need a trade union! So how can the kingdom of God be likened to such social exploitation racket?
We mustn’t forget of course that the ones hired first were initially quite happy with the generous rate of pay their complaint was more self-centred. As we have seen over the last few weeks, Jesus’ use of parables is deliberately provocative. He wants us to feel outraged at the seeming injustice but at the same time presents us with a dichotomy. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus could have said, is a place of second chances. There are those who find God early in life and live good lives honouring to God and there are those who may have a little bit of a chequered past and maybe the odd skeleton in the cupboard, but at last, in their final hour, with their dying breath they find the peace of God that passes all understanding. Which people therefore does God love the most? Well – all of them, he loves everyone the same, there are no favourites in heaven. The reward is the kingdom of God, whoever you are and whatever you have done. The old hymn says:
‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.’ (Hymn – to God be the glory).
But there’s something else in this parable that we overlook. These aren’t necessarily people who have deliberately shirked work or been in any way complicit in their situation; neither are they like folk today who might be just indifferent to the word of God. But when they are questioned by the foreman they tell him – we want to work but no one will hire us….. were they what we might see as ‘unemployable’, ‘unsuitable’ or from the wrong end of town? What God sees is that they are all made in his image.
But our encouragement must surely come from the fact that the ‘hirer’ or foreman goes out pro-actively looking for labourers, time after time, in our story, he never gives up, seeking out the lost. It is a story reminiscent of the prodigal son, where the Father watches for his return every day, until the day he sees the son in the distance and he runs out to meet him. The Kingdom of God is a place where everyone is loved, special, accepted and of value. In a sense we can argue that we are all undeserving, whatever we have done in our lives cannot ever ‘buy our way to heaven.’ God’s forgiveness is unconditional and through his grace alone.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Chapter 2):
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5)
Be present, O merciful God,
and protect us through the silent hours of this night,
so that we who are wearied
by the changes and chances of this fleeting world,
may rest upon your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
In peace we will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.
Abide with us, Lord Jesus,
for the night is at hand and the day is now past.
As the night watch looks for the morning,
so do we look for you, O Christ.
The Lord bless us and watch over us;
the Lord make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us;
the Lord look kindly on us and give us peace.
Some material is taken from Common Worship which is © The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, 2000-2005 Bible readings are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.