Winner Takes It All

Winner Takes It Allworkinvineyard
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
Matthew 20:1-16
21st September 2014

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That’s her destiny
The winner takes it all

The game is on again
A lover or a friend
A big thing or a small
The winner takes it all

The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain?

The parable of the workers in the vineyard picks up on the concept of winning and losing, coming first and last.

The story goes that some of the workers were lucky enough to get jobs early in the morning and some were not.

Yet at the end of the day, the twist in the tale is that on account of the compassion of the landlord, they all got paid the same amount. They were in effect all winners.

This intrigues me and so, I would like to talk about the concept of winning and losing in the kingdom of God.

We have just had a general election and today we have a new government.

Like you, I have been considering my vote and this caused me to wonder what a Jesus party might look like?

Instead of an Act Party, his party might be called an Acts party. What do you reckon such a party might stand for?

Jesus summed up what he stood for in a simple mission statement:

Love God and Love your neighbour.

Everything else he did and said was by way of an explanation or an outworking of this mission statement.

So in the light of this mission statement I would like to explore the concept of winning and losing as it is dealt with in the parable.

What does winning and losing look like in God’s vineyard, his kingdom?

In the parable I believe the landowner is God and we are the workers. The parable is a commentary on God’s relationship with humankind which is both personal and compassionate and loving.

I’m a bit of an Abba fan, both in the Biblical sense and as the name pertains to the 70’s and 80’s pop group.

The Abba song, Winner takes it all, which we have just heard has a verse which goes like this:

The gods may throw the dice, their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here, loses someone dear

This reminds us that we live in a fickle world where the winds of our circumstance blow hot and cold.

Furthermore, to quote another song, this time by Linda Ronstadt, pop singer of the 70’sEveryone loves a winner.

Once I had fame
I was full of pride
Well, there were a lot of friends
Always by my side

But my luck ran dry
Now my friends begin to hide

When you lose, you lose alone. More often than not, the love of the world is conditional and is meted out on the basis of beauty, good fortune success and such like.

Is this true of our Trinitarian God?

I somehow don’t think so.

The Gospel of John tells us that God is love and one thing we know about God’s love is that it is far from cold as ice. It is warm, compassionate and embracing.

Furthermore it is unconditional.

God’s love, often referred to as agape, is based on grace and so no matter who we are, what we do, or what we believe, we are the beneficiaries of God’s love.

That having been said, don’t you feel some sympathy for the men we read about in the parable, who worked longer and therefore expected to receive a greater reward, than the men who worked fewer hours?

I feel a sense of outrage that those who worked long hours in the hot sun, should be paid the same as those who’d worked for only one hour.

It simply doesn’t seem fair.

Isn’t this after all how it works? Whether you vote Labour or National they all seem to agree:

The harder we work, the more we should be rewarded with status, money, respect and even love.

Our worth, our love-ability, is to be earned.

You’ve got to put in the time if you want to reap the rewards

Everybody loves a winner.

This may well be how our Western society is organised, but we run into the realms of heresy when we import this notion into our theology because this is not how God works.

This parable teaches the shocking truth, that God does not only love winners. He loves the losers as well and his compassion extends to providing for every person according to their need. In the parable of the lost sheep, the loving shepherd went to a great deal of trouble to rescue that lost loser of a sheep!

The parable of the workers in the vineyard ends with a rhetorical question:

‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?

So the last will be first and the first will be last.’

Wow Jesus, that’s a big call!

There is a cultural consensus about what is fair and reasonable when it comes to the way society works which encourages us to be more critical of this parable, than any other of Jesus’ parables.

Of course it is true that anyone can be generous with their own money and resources, but let’s face it, elections are won and lost on this very question.

In the secular world, organised labour i.e. trade unionists and contractual negotiators, would not accept this as fair employment practice and any political party who tried to promote this practice would be dead in the water on Election Day.

On the other hand, consider this. I have shared with you before that this parable reminds me of something that I witnessed as a child that I found very upsetting.

I remember as a child that we used to drive past a 4-way stop intersection in S.A on my way to school at 7.30am. There I would see poor, unemployed people standing in droves waiting for someone to come and hire them to do unskilled word for the day.

I also remember how it would break my heart when returning from school I would see some of those same men and women at 3o’clock, still standing there waiting for someone to hire them.

The look of their despair still haunts me.

What, I wondered, would their families do for food that night?

Maybe the owner of the vineyard in the parable was operating from a similar awareness.

Surely the unemployed women and men who’d been standing in the market place all day, desperately hoping to get a job and feeling quite despondent because no one had given them one, needed a generous break too?

This parable attempts to address this dilemma.

We learn from the Parable that God’s love is undiscerning. Winners and losers regardless, are loved by God.

Everyone loves a winner, but God loves everyone.

I used to teach bible in schools and I remember that in one of my lessons, I shared with the children that God loves everyone no matter who they are or what they have done.

But does he love those who don’t believe in Him?

Yes I said.

Does he love all those nasty people in prison?

Yes I said.

So he loves murderers and rapists?

Yes I said.

I was surprised at how difficult I was finding it to say yes each time without adding riders.

I was thinking in worldly terms where conditional love is the norm.

Yet according to this parable, God’s love has no prejudice. He gives to each according to what they need not what we might think they deserve.

To understand God’s unconditional love go and watch new parents with their baby.

What does the baby have to do to earn their love?

This is how God’s unconditional love is revealed to each of us.

We live in a competitive world. The best are winners and we strive against others to be the best, to earn the rewards awaiting those who win.

The problem with competition is that, in the words of Abba, The winner takes it all and the loser stands small.

Or said in another way,

 The winner takes it all, the rest are left bereft.

In the Jesus party/ the kingdom of God, this is an injustice.

Everyone loves a winner, but God loves everyone and unconditionally at that. And here’s the thing if we are to be on Jesus’ team, in the Jesus party, then so must we.

If there are any winners and losers in God’s kingdom, then the winners are those who learn to love unconditionally and unselfishly.

This truth needs to shape how we treat the poor, the marginalised and those whom society might be tempted to label losers.

  • New Zealand has an unemployment rate of 5.6%

Lifewise says there are about 100 rough sleepers in a 3 km radius of the central city in Auckland and an estimated 15,000 in Auckland sleep rough in overcrowded garages or couch surfing.

  • According to a report by Every Child Counts, up to 270,000 children live in poverty in New Zealand.
  • The Ebola virus is causing havoc in Africa.  Nearly 5,500 people have been infected with the deadly disease, and already more than 2,600 people have died as a result.

Let’s take another look at verse15 ff

‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?

Or are you envious because I am generous?

So the last will be first and the first will be last.’

I wonder how this parable might inform what we do with what belongs to us.

How might we share our resources so that there are no winners and losers in our world?

What causes might we support that will mirror the love of the God in whose image we have been created?

How does belonging to the Jesus party, which I shall call the Church, impact how we live and how we reward and how we choose to share what belongs to us?

And finally,

What difference does it make to your day, to wake up in the morning knowing that no matter who you are, or what you have done, or how you are feeling, God loves you. I’ll say it again, God loves you, God loves YOU , so smile because that  makes you a winner no matter what you or anyone else may think!

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