Reflection for Sunday – September 24, 2023
Readings: Isaiah 55: 6-9; Philippians 1: 20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20: 1-6a
Preacher: Susan Howard
Sisters and Brothers, Paul makes it clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is for both genders. He is reiterating what Matthew has written in the Gospel that all people who work at being disciples will receive their reward of eternal life. Of course, you knew that, but let’s reflect for a moment why it’s important to let women know they are counted among those who will inherit a place in heaven.
My sister worked in the vineyards down on the hillsides of Keuka Lake one winter tying grapes vines. She told me there were three kinds of workers in the vineyards. Those who harvest the grapes, those who trimmed the vines, and those who tied them up on the wires after the trimming was done. The harvesters carried the heavy load of choosing the best grapes and lugging the crates around. The trimmers were skilled people who knew which were the strongest and healthiest vines to nurture and which to cut away. Those who tied the grape vines had to secure those good vines to the fence without breaking them- not a skilled job but again it’s outside in the elements in late fall and winter. None of it is easy work. Gender does not hold anyone back from any of these jobs.
And who is out there doing this work? Women and men trying to make some extra money after their day jobs or seasonal workers trying to help their families pay for the necessities of life. Women and men who show up late because they had to wait for a spouse or relative to watch the children so they could get out and make a few dollars to make ends meet. Women and men who had anxiety about working in crowds, veterans who couldn’t function at regular jobs anymore, or the addict who couldn’t get it together to work 9-5. And of course, the scoundrels and no-goodnicks mentioned in Isaiah, women and men, who had criminal records or reputations that prohibited the scrutiny required of a legitimate business. A whole host of people with personal backstories that no one knew about, except for God alone.
And God, having the most generous and forgiving heart, loves them all! So, if you show up to work at 5:00am you are blessed, or 5:00pm you are blessed the same. It’s not about being fair, it’s about the generosity of the “landowner”, God.
In this same vein, let’s look at who this parable is revealed to. It was to the disciples who had just been arguing about who would be first in the Kingdom. To them all Jesus says, “The Last shall be First.” He is attempting to open their eyes and their hearts to a new reality, that just because they have followed him from the beginning doesn’t mean they hold all the rights of heaven. Discipleship and the quest for heavenly reward is not a closed system that excludes others, it is an open invitation for all people. And to that I add from my own experience, this invitation is open to women.
I am overflowing with gratitude and love when I realize that I too have had the opportunity to work in the vineyard as a professional lay minister. I, who came from nowhere and with nothing but the desire to know God, who sensed that I was called to participate in something that brought meaning to my life and work and to make my little part of the world a better place. I took my place and made the most of what I had to give.
Your discipleship or path in the Christian life may not bring you to be part of a church ministry. As you grow in faith you may receive the gifts that propel you to aspire to higher things. I was inspired by a special edition of the newspaper that highlighted the Women of the Year, one from each state. Their stories were amazing. Just one example is Nicole Mann who became a NASA astronaut and mission commander for NASA’s SpaceX Crew. The first Native American in space. She has some poignant words of encouragement for young women today, “It’s ok to take on things you might fail at, because that’s how you learn to overcome adversity.”
To all women, young and old, may you take your place in life, whatever that may be, hold tight to your faith and let God create a path for you that may satisfy your hungry heart.