The Old Testament reading is from Jonah, my favorite prophet.
I like Jonah because he is so human.
I can really identify with him.
Most of us have heard about Jonah and the Whale, or Jonah and the Great Fish.
But this part of the story doesn't get told very often.
The background to this morning's reading is that Jonah arrives in Nineveh and spends four days prophesying about their sin. And the city - including its king - repent.
Interestingly, the ruins of Nineveh are in modern-day Iraq, right across the river from Mosul, which is under control of the Islamic State in the Levant. Imagine going there now to tell them to repent.
Jonah ran away - not because he was afraid -
but because he wanted the Ninevites to get what they deserved.
They had done some awful things, and he wanted them to suffer for it.
Sure enough, after he prophesies to Nineveh, the people repent.
And God forgives them.
And Jonah is so upset about their not being punished that he wants to die.
Jonah isn't focused on his relationship with God;
he's focused on God's relationship with Nineveh.
Jonah has judged Nineveh himself, and found it deserving punishment.
He disagrees with God's judgment of Nineveh.
In fact, Jonah is judging God.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about some workers
who agreed to a certain amount of money for the day's labor.
Other workers came later in the day and worked fewer hours,
but got the same pay.
That doesn't sound fair to our ears, does it?
And it didn't sound fair to the workers.
They think these other workers got more than they deserved.
But those who worked a full day for a fair full day's wages
did not have their pay reduced. It was still a fair day's wages.
These workers are instead concerned about what others have done to earn their pay.
These workers have stepped out of their relationship with the landowner
and have concerned themselves with the relationship
between the landowner and the other workers.
They disagree with the landowner, and are judging him.
When someone receives the same money, food, or other reward that we do, we expect them to put in at least as much time and effort as we do.
We don't want them to get more than they deserve.
When someone harms us, we often want revenge. We want the other person to hurt the way we hurt. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.
They get what they deserve.
And even if we're going to bring forgiveness into the picture,
there are some things that just seem unforgivable.
We often think of justice as an economic issue - a math problem:
In fact, we often see a balance - "the Scales of Justice" - as a symbol of fairness.
It's the way we hope our courts will work.
It's the way we want our judges and juries to decide what's right.
That may be okay for government - for civil justice.
But sometimes we want our God to reflect our idea of fairness.
And when we see God forgiving those we think are unforgivable,
it's easy for us to feel those scales are tilted
in someone else's favor.
Or maybe someone new to the faith -
or new to our church -
gets as much of a say in how the church moves forward
as others who have been in the church for many years.
It doesn't seem fair, to have worked so hard for so long,
Only to have some newcomer step in.
But what would it look like for God to use our sense of justice -
that everyone gets what they deserve?
What would it look like if we were punished
according to everything we had done wrong?
What if we had an unforgiving God who made us suffer
for every unfair, unjust, harmful, or cruel thing we had done in our lives?
What if our God had no mercy?
That's the God Jonah wants - but only for the Ninevites, not for himself.
And what would it look like if we had to earn forgiveness?
How many years would we have to work?
We can't earn a gift.
We can't earn grace.
Fortunately, we have a God who doesn't pay us back in kind for our sins.
We have a God who doesn't require that we work off our debt.
Instead, we have a God who wants us to be transformed:
to become new creatures who, having received grace,
are ready to pour it out to others.
Unfortunately, we're still human.
We still get that feeling that other people are undeserving.
We still tend to judge others.
Sometimes we even judge God.
We forget how blessed we are and start measuring ourselves against others.
The good news is that the grace of God even covers our ungracefulness.
We can try again.
So for this week, I want to leave you with this challenge:
Notice those times when you're concerned about
someone getting a better deal than you are.
Notice those times when you think someone needs to suffer for what they did.
In those times, refocus on your relationship with God,
and not on what good fortune others may have.