New Mathematics

When working with the Bible daily in preparation for sermons, Bible studies, personal counseling, funeral homilies and daily spiritual disciplines - one begins to confront the “new math” of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus came into the world, he brought a very different nexus of reckoning. He turned the world of mathematics upside down. 

Think about the shepherd who risked 99 sheep to look after themselves in the wilderness while he went in search for the one now lost. There is the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with a measure of fine perfume costing over a year’s salary through which she receives his praise. What kind of math is all of this?

Jesus watched the wealthy making a show of dropping their money into the Temple treasury. When a poor widow came and dropped her two mites (approximately one penny) into the treasury, Jesus claimed she had given more than all the others combined. Figure that on your phone’s calculator.

Then there is Matthew 20:1-6 which really surpasses all. A landowner hire people throughout the day to work his vineyard. At the end of the day, this non-conforming landowner call the workers together, paying the last to arrive (those who had worked but the shortest of shifts) first, and then paying all the same wage - regardless of when in the day they began working.

When those who were first hired at daybreak observe the landowner receive one denarius for barely an hour’s work, and they receive one denarius for twelve hours work, there is much grumbling. What kind of math produces a pay scale such as this? What kind of vineyard?

In the world’s mathematics, 1 + 1 always = 2 (and only 2). But the math in the Kingdom of Heaven, 1 may be = in value to 99...depending on who is doing the counting. Two mites is said to be > than a big sack of money...depending on who is keeping the books. A landowner pays the laborers who worked the longest and those who worked the shortest the same, because he gives to everyone according to their need, not on the basis of self-expected merit.

The “new math” of the kingdom is note shrewd, sharp calculation of limitation, but extravagant in graciousness. In the upside down world of insignificance - one sheep, one penny, one barely noticed hour of labor - become significant numbers in God’s calculations. But generosity is always a scandal in every circumstance save when one themselves becomes beneficiary.

Those who labored in the vineyard all day were perfectly content as they found labor which would produce compensation agreeable to both the one receiving and the one giving. No complaint was even considered until….until...until they compared their treatment with another, especially those less deserving in their eyes.

I suppose many of us immediately identify with the workers who toiled all day. After all, here we are “in the vineyard” so to speak. We’ve been in the church for a good long while. Kinda difficult to keep from calculating such people as we are most deserving. We have been praying, working, and giving in order to spread the Kingdom of God.

But what if our relationship with the God is not a matter of what we do, or the way we work the numbers, but a matter of who God is and what God does? What if God created a world in such a way that there is room for God to be extravagant in compassion? What if there is room for people who have nothing to be given everything?

If truth be told, we are all eleventh hour workers whose debts have been paid, whose freedom and forgiveness have been secured through the saving sacrifice of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is indeed an upside down world where its mathematics start out looking like offensive grace but turns out to be amazing grace.

-Rev. Colby