As I sat down to write this message, our daughter Laura was in her room packing up crates and suitcases with everything that she needs to return to university in Sheffield this weekend. After six months at home with Mum and Dad, I think she’ll be glad to get some of her independence back! That said, there is an awareness that university will feel very different this year. All lectures will be online, face-to-face teaching will only be in very small groups and the social aspect of student life will be very limited because of the Covid-19 restrictions.
And once again, the inequalities of our society are brought into sharp focus because the very nature of how learning will happen during this coming year requires every student to have their own laptop, as access to computers in university libraries will also be restricted. Not every student can afford such resources and so, once more, the divide between those who “have” and those who “have not” becomes more apparent – it isn’t fair!
The pandemic has undoubtedly heightened the sense of injustice that exists in our world as we recognise that those who are suffering most from the illness itself or from the consequences of it such as unemployment and poverty are those who were already underprivileged.
The story in Matthew 20 v 1-16 which is the appointed passage of scripture for this Sunday 20th September is a story in which there is a sense of injustice around. Workers hired early in the morning are paid the same for their full day’s labour as workers hired later in the day who worked a shorter shift, causing resentment amongst those who had worked all day – they didn’t think it was fair, despite having been paid what they were promised.
But this story told by Jesus is a story about so much more than what is fair and just. It’s a story about generosity. The vineyard owner chose to pay those who worked only a few hours, more than they were due, but that was his choice.
It’s a story about God’s grace, which often offends our instincts about fairness because he gives some more than others feel they deserve, even though everyone received what they were promised. It’s also about people who are in need. Those who were hired at the end of the day were most likely to be the weak, disabled, elderly or anyone who had a bad reputation. It is such as these who are on the receiving end of the generosity and grace.
It’s also a story about value. Those who had worked all day weren’t angry because their boss had been generous or extravagant. They were angry because he had treated everyone as equally valuable and worthy and taken away any sense of superiority or privilege that they might have harboured.
How often I wonder do we cry “it’s not fair! when we feel that others have been treated more generously than us, when we haven’t got our own way or when those who are struggling are given help which puts them on a par with us?
As you read the Bible it’s noticeable that God’s preference is to show compassion and kindness to those who don’t have it so good or to those who are feeling pushed to the margins of society. And of course, we understand that, but when we see it happening in practice then perhaps we realise how poor we are at allowing help, support and resources to go where they are most needed, especially if that means giving up some of our own resource.
But that’s the challenge we face! We are called to emulate God’s generosity, compassion, grace and love for all, including those that we may feel are undeserving or unworthy. So, who are the people in your neighbourhood and community who are in need of some extravagant generosity and grace, some kindness and understanding? Why not make their world a better place by sharing God’s love for them in a simple gesture of kindness and generosity today or sometime this week. There will always be those who don’t understand why you’re doing it, but you will have helped someone catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God!
Gill Newton, District Chair