Belief in Books - Extra Yarn

Matthew 20:1-16

Workers in the vineyard

20 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.2 After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard.

3 “Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ 5 And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. 6 Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

7 “‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ 9 When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14  Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16  So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”

Summary of Extra Yarn

This is the story of girl who loves to knit and is given a box of yarn with a seemingly endless supply.  While she first knits something for herself, what she finds is that there is always more yarn to be knit for others.  A rich man soon learns of the yarn and offers to buy the box.  When she says no, he then steals it instead.  When he gets back to his castle however he discovers the box is empty.  He then curses the girl so that she will never be happy again, but the curse does not work, she recovers the box and lives happily ever after.

Thoughts on the passage:

Meritocracy is “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.” (Merriam-Webster definition) In the corporate world it runs in tension with systems of seniority, where people are moved ahead based on length of time with the company.  In religion it can take many forms.  In Judaism it is seen in the series of sacrifices and actions done to bring people back into favor with God.  In Buddhism you can see it with karma and the idea that a progression is based on acquired merit.  Meritocracy however has no place in Christianity.

In his parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus challenges the ideas of meritocracy that were present all around him.  Most, listening to the story would sympathize with the people who had labored all day.  Surely their hard work would come to some greater reward than the late comers who only put in a partial effort.  As someone who works hard myself, I can also find myself on that side of the argument.  I would like to think that my hard work, my faithfulness, my good deeds would have some reward.  Sadly, that is not what Jesus teaches us.

Meritocracy can breed a sense of entitlement.  When we exist in meritorious systems, like the United States, we often tend to think that our hard work, our achievements and our wealth have value and give us some entitlements.  After all, we have earned it.  We see that entitlement in the labors who worked all day, who feel they are entitled to MORE than what was promised because they worked harder and longer.  We also see it in the rich ruler in Extra Yarn, who believes that his wealth and power entitle him to the box of endless yarn.  What he learns, to his great despair and frustration is that all that wealth and power entitles him to is nothing.

The yarn in the story is God’s grace.  It covers us all.  It makes us beautiful.  It also can never be bought and never be earned.  The girl does not seek the yarn, nor does she hoard it.  She shares that love and grace with everyone who needs it.  That yarn transforms her community.  God’s grace transforms our community.

It is easy to slip into that laborer’s mindset of entitlement.  Many of us have been faithfully laboring for Christ our whole lives.  We were born in the church, raised in the church, and hope one day to die in the church.  Sadly, none of that entitles us to anything.  Even that is not enough to earn a place in heaven.  Our place in heaven comes not from what we do, but from the grace of God that enters into our lives from outside of us and covers us with radiant beauty.  That grace is promised equally to everyone.  It does not matter if we labor for 80 years for Christ or 8 seconds, God’s love is the same.

The challenge for us is to be like that little girl.  We have been blessed with God’s grace.  We know that we are loved.  Are we willing to selflessly share that gift with others?  Are we willing to do everything we can so that others might be transformed by God’s love?  Nothing we do will earn us another stitch of God’s redeeming yarn.  Nothing we do can help us earn another denarius for our time in the vineyard.  God’s grace is already promised to us.  Instead we should be working so that others might know that same grace.  We need to be working to offer the yarn we have been given so that others might be covered with that same love.

Membership in most places is about privileges.  A membership at Costco or Sam’s Club entitles you to discounts.  A membership at Eagle Creek golf course gives unlimited greens fees.  Membership in the church is not about privileges, but about responsibilities.  It is a commitment to the church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  God still loves us whether or not we are members.  You can still be married and buried in this church whether or not you are members.  Being a member earns us nothing.  Instead it is our choice, our commitment to do all we can to spread the gospel, the good news of God’s love and grace to transform the world.

Questions to Ponder:

What gift has God given you to share with others?

How often do you find yourself thinking of God’s love in terms of merit rather than a free gift?

What can you do to live selflessly for God?

Prayer:

 

God, you bless us all with your radiant love and grace.  Through your son, you remind us that there is nothing we can do to earn this love.  It is a gift you give to us.  Help us to share this gift with others that all might be covered by your redeeming presence.  Amen