*[The vineyard owner] replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?*
*Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’*
- Matthew 20*
One thing that sometimes saddens me about the “anti-religious argument” is that those who put forth this argument often assume that the Bible – and religious practice as well – are all about violence and judgment. Brian McLaren, a terrific thinker, writer, and speaker on spiritual matters, once said that the problem with our arguments about religion is that we tend to compare the best of our traditions or beliefs with the worst of the traditions and beliefs of others.
In a nutshell, it seems as if our disagreements about religion – other than the mindless argument of some that it’s just a bunch of superstitious baloney – center on whether God is either too judgmental or too generous. The longer I serve as a pastor, the more I come to understand that there is plenty in Scripture to unsettle – even irritate – just about everybody. Including, of course, me.
To be sure, there is great comfort, poetry, storytelling, and holy challenge in Scripture. But there is also, tucked away in some hidden or ignored chapter and verse, something that will cause just about every one of us, at some point, to say, “Now just a cotton-pickin’ minute; that is completely ridiculous!”
Like the story of the vineyard owner who hires a bunch of laborers early in the morning, another batch at midday, another in the afternoon, and a last group right about closing time. What does the owner do at the end of the day? He pays everyone EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY. What (in God’s name) is up with that? It offends just about everything we are taught about reward based on merit and/or effort. Scripture tells us that “God’s ways are not our ways” Ummm; no kidding.
Some wise old wag once said, only half-jokingly, that the message of the Bible, distilled in six words, is, “I am God, and you’re not.” Presumably, part of the reason we worship together is that we wish to become more God-like, whatever we discover that to mean. Even if it unsettles us and sometimes irritates us. We know that the world as it is doesn’t work very well; too many of God’s creatures live in violence and despair; forgotten or openly abused, and left to fend for themselves. We know it’s time to try something different to bring forth God’s Kin-dom.
Worship as one of us at 10 AM on Sunday. God – and we – welcome the presence and wisdom of all. And it’s okay if it irritates you sometimes.
You’re not alone.