Sermon. September 20th. Based on Exodus 16: 2-15 (The Promise of Quail and Manna) and Matthew 20: 1-16 (Parable of the Vineyard Landowner)
The world’s farmers produce enough food to feed one and a half times the world’s population. Yet in 2018, it was calculated that 795 million people went to bed hungry every night. The number continues to grow, becoming increasingly greater with the current global pandemic and natural disasters. It is said that 30-40% of food produced by global farmers goes wasted. Unequal distribution of the world’s resources, be it globally, nation to nation, within one country or community or family, causes food scarcity zones, some in our backyards. And even moreso, the change in climate is changing the agricultural landscape, which will decrease what the land can yield.
Now here we have a story about the landowner who apparently had a lot of land to till. And we also learn that there were a lot of people who were unemployed and in need of work as all day long workers kept showing up and the farmer kept employing them.
Like Jesus’ other parables, when he tells this story, Jesus first wants the hearers to be able to grasp what he is teaching them by first relating to their specific time and culture, and economic and social status. In Jesus’ time, the people experienced unequal distribution of wealth – where the rich grew richer and the poor poorer. Landowners kept buying up the family farms causing the small landowners to be out of work and in need of income. The landowner gained more land and paid less for it to be taken care of. The result was a global economy where the rich get richer and the poor poorer.
But that’s not all we hear in the parable as Jesus begins to teach them about God’s generosity; the way life can be, not the way it was, where God’s economy is about generosity that brings transformation.
You see, this parable is also about a God whose kingdom is vast, where there is enough for everyone, and no one is left out. A kingdom where if you are committed and always play by the rules or you come to the party late, you are treated the same. A kingdom where God’s economy makes sure that all are welcome, all are included, and all are deserving of God’s generosity. God’s economy ensures that there is enough for everyone.
The Hebrews were whiny just like the committed daily workers in Jesus’ parable. They could not understand why God would have told Moses to lead them away from slavery when at least there they had food and nourishment. Now they were tired and hungry crying out, “Did you bring us out of Egypt to have us starve to death in the desert?” And God heard them and consequently provided food for them but instructing them to only consume what they needed. And is so doing, God also promised that they would all have enough.
Now, as the Hebrews wandered the wilderness, they faced a new way of relating to God, having to trust in God’s generosity and not to hoard what God gave them. No matter how much or little they gathered, God declared that each would have enough.
What is perhaps interesting in this God-event, is that God uses creation to care for them. First God sends Quail at night – little guinea fowl-like birds – that settle down in great flocks each night to rest. And in the morning God sent Manna (the Hebrew word is man hu, which means “what is it?”) which is known to be a substance that is secreted each morning by tamarisk trees.
In God’s economy, God uses the world that God has created to provide. In essence, God intends for God’s world to be a hospitable home for all, where we all gather only what we need and work to distribute the world’s goods so that all may have enough. May we practice God’s economy of generosity, where there is enough for everyone.