Week of Proper 15: Wednesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above: The Death of Abimelech, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

What You Get Might Not Be What You Expect–For Good or For Ill

AUGUST 23, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Judges 9:6-15 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo convenend, and they proclaimed Abimelech king at the terebinth of the pillar at Shechem.  When Jothan was informed, he went and stood up on top of Mount Gerizim and called out to them in a loud voice.

Citizens of Shechem!

he cried,

listen to me, that God may listen to you.

Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves.  They said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’  But the olive tree replied, ‘Have I, through whom God and men are honored, stopped yielding my rich oil, that I should go and wave above the trees?’  So the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’  But the vine replied, ‘Have I stopped yielding my new wine, which gladdens God and men, that I should go and wave above the trees?’  Then all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘You come and reign over us.’  And the thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you are acting honorably in anointing me king over you, come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, may fire issue from the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’

Psalm 21:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The king rejoices in your strengh, O LORD;

how greatly he exults in your victory!

2 You have given him his heart’s desire;

you have not denied him the request of his lips.

3 For you meet him with blessings of prosperity,

and set a crown of fine gold upon his head.

4 He asked you for life, and you gave it to him:

length of days, for ever and ever.

5 His honor is great, because of your victory;

splendor and majesty have you bestowed upon him.

6 For you will give him everlasting felicity

and will make him glad with the joy of your presence.

Matthew 20:1-16a (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Jesus said,

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder going out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. He agreed with them on a wage of a silver coin a day and sent them to work.  About nine o’clock he went and saw some others standing about in the market-place with nothing to do.  ‘You go to the vineyard too,’ he said to them, ‘and I will pay you a fair wage.’  And off they went.  As about mid-day and again at three o’clock in the afternoon he went out and did the same thing.  Then about five o’clock he went out and found some others standing about.  ‘Why are you standing about here all day doing nothing?” he asked them. ‘Because no one has employed us,’ they replied.  ‘You go off into the vineyard as well, then,’ he said.

When evening came the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’  So those who were engaged at five o’clock came up and each man received a silver coin.  But when the first to be employed came they reckoned they would get more; yet they also received a silver coin each.  As they took their money they grumbled at the householder and said, ‘These last fellows have only put in one hour’s work and you’ve treated them exactly the same as us who have gone through all the hard work and heat of the day!’

But he replied to one of them, ‘My friend, I’m not being unjust to you.  Wasn’t our agreement for a silver coin a day?  Take your money and go home.  It is my wish to give the late-comers as much as I give you.  May I not do what I like with what belongs to me?  Must you be jealous because I am generous?’

So, many who are the last now will be first then and the first last.


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Standing out from the crowd can be difficult, for conformity is relatively easy.  So Israelites desired to have a king.  But, to paraphrase the extremely old knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in a different context, they chose poorly.  They opted for Abimelech, the amoral son of Gideon.  Abimelech was willing to kill anyone–including brothers–to advance himself.  Not even Jotham’s cautionary tale dissuaded the people.  So they got a king, one who sparked a civil war and reigned for three years, give or take a few months, weeks, and days.  And, in Judges 9, as he lay dying because a woman had cracked his skull by dropping a millstone upon it, Abimelech ordered his arms-bearer to kill him, saying “Draw your dagger and finish me off, that they may not say of me, ‘A woman killed him!'”  (9:54, TANAKH)  Women were not equal to men in that society, so dying because of  a woman was a mark of ignominy, not that Abimelech was a glorious figure.

God was supposed to be the king of Israelites.  Each judge served his or her time in a leadership capacity, with the charge to do the work God intended.  But Israel was supposed to be different, and it wanted to be same.  This was a big mistake, the beginning of its downfall.  Yet the Biblical narrative speaks of how God gave the people what they wanted, and they got Saul, David, Solomon, and their political heirs.  Along with political glory came increased social inequality and economic exploitation.  The people got more than they bargained for, and it included a large dose of unpleasantness.

In contrast, consider the generosity of the vineyard owner, a stand-in for God, in the parable of Jesus.  Everyone received the standard wage for one day’s work.  Everybody–even the people whom the vineyard owner had recruited two hours before the end of work–received one day’s wage.  But the vineyard owner cheated nobody; he paid nobody less than he had promised.  The people who worked a day received what they expected at the beginning of the day, and those who worked for a shorter period of time received more than they expected.  It was only when the men who had worked a full day saw the wages of the others that they expected more, and were therefore disappointed.

Let us never begrudge the generosity of God to anyone.  And may we be careful what we wish for, for we might get it–and more.  The first sentence is a happy spiritual thought, while the second is disturbing.  The first sentence indicates grace and the second speaks of discipline, the intention of which is correction.  So, when we pray, may we seek only that which is consistent with God’s best for us and others.  May we be sufficiently humble to realize that God knows far more than we do, and act accordingly.



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