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Someone’s living and, oh gosh, it’s me

by davesandel on August 18th, 2021

Wednesday, August 18, 2021                         (today’s lectionary)

Someone’s living and, oh gosh, it’s me

All the citizens of Shechem proceeded to make Abimelech king. Then his brother Jotham went to the top of Mt. Gerizim and cried out at the top of his voice.

Abimelech had all of his brothers killed, save Jotham, who escaped. Gideon, who had seventy wives and one concubine, had seventy one sons. He saved Israel from their enemies and then turned down an offer to become king, but when he died things went far awry.

So Jotham climbed a mountain and called out the people, who had offered kingship to good judges like Deborah and Gideon. Jotham said that like olive and fig trees, like vineyards full of grapes for wine, they did not take advantage of the people or try to replace Yahweh with their own.

Abimelech, on the other hand, took advantage every time he could. Personal power was all that mattered to him. He was like the brambles, offering shade which he could not give, but threatening fire and destruction to those who did not lie down in his shadow.

Jotham’s parable was true, and people understood it. But he had to flee. Politics and religion divided the people, then just as they do now. Had he stuck around he would have been killed like his 69 brothers.

Lord, in your strength the king is glad. You made him a blessing forever, you gladdened him with the joy of your face.

Why include Psalm 21, or the gospel story from Matthew 20 in the lectionary with this terrible tale from the book of Judges? How about this?

Many of the regular folks, the common people of Israel, despaired of their leaders’ righteousness. They yearned, as we do, for men and women who were not corrupt, who did not have to hide from accusation and complaint, who listened to God and followed what they heard. These people were hard to find, and to keep alive.

Jesus’ story of the workers in the vineyard is about the people, and their inability to let God be God. But it’s also about the landowner, the leader who hears God’s direction and then obeys. God bestows grace on all of us equally, and that translates to wages and opportunity in the vineyard. Can the landlord just stay out of the way, and let God bless the folks who pick the grapes?

Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first. Each received the usual daily wage, whether they worked an hour or all day. Some complained. “But these last ones only worked a little while, while we bore the whole day’s burden and the heat.”

If I think about it for even a minute or two, of course I want that kind of landlord. There will certainly come a day when I’m the one in the vineyard for just an hour.

But if all of us are treated equally regardless of our work, will we still feel free to accomplish more for ourselves? Political journalist and sociologist David Brooks says that liberals focus on equality, and conservatives focus on freedom. Parker Palmer in The Healing of Democracy points out that the United States and other countries thrive because those two groups take turns at leadership, so both equality and freedom get a chance to grow.

But “thrive” is a big word. The system has never worked very well. And that’s because, I think, the rest of Jesus’ story is kind of forgotten: that last becoming first part.

What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.

When I accept, surrender my position and find my right place in God’s world, I never need be first again.  God needs that from all of us. Watching others get blessed is what I do, what all God’s children do.

And then Donovan’s little ditty comes alive. Happy I am, all on a new day.

(Judges 9, Psalm 21, Hebrews 4, Matthew 20)

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