Sylvia Alloway, Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

“My boss owes me for all my hard work.” “The company is insured.” “Nobody will notice.”

These are some of the excuses employees make to justify stealing money, merchandise, office supplies, and more from their employers. Incidents of employee theft are on the rise. Do you think there is ever a valid excuse for employee theft? If so, what might it be? If not, why do you think more and more people are stealing at work?

Is It Really Stealing?

A 2019 survey revealed that 75% of those surveyed admitted to stealing from their employers at least once and 37.5%, at least twice. Why do they do it? Some can’t be bothered to buy the product. Some blame lack of supervision and poor enforcement of consequences or a sudden financial need Others believe the company can afford it. But the most common reason is employees feeling overworked and under-appreciated.  They believe they deserve more.

This sounds reasonable from the point of view of one person. But 75% of individuals taking what they think they deserve adds up. Almost a third of small and mid-sized business owners who declare bankruptcy say that employee theft was a direct cause. The more businesses fail, the more people are left jobless and unable to feed their families. Soon, the whole economy begins to break down.  Yes, taking an employer’s property really is stealing.

The Eighth Commandment says, “You shall not steal.” There is no “unless” – unless I’m not getting paid enough, unless I’m in terrible financial need, unless the boss isn’t paying attention. God wants Christians to fulfill our responsibilities no matter how we feel, no matter who is or isn’t looking. When God gives us a job, He expects us to give it our best. “So… whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NRSV). God’s economy isn’t based on deserving. If it were, no one would get anything but God’s wrath. Since Christians have received grace, let us behave graciously.

Discussion Questions

  • If you are able, follow the links in the article above. Think again about the Warm-up Question. Most people would say that stealing is wrong. So, why are more and more people stealing from their employers?
  • What do you think employers should do to prevent employee theft?
  • What do you think it means to “do everything for the glory of God”?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 5:1-7

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Jesus is having another run-in with the religious leaders, the aristocrats of the Jewish culture. They challenge his authority. What right has he, humble carpenter’s son, to teach and preach to them, the ones who have studied God’s law all their lives? This upstart must be challenged!

As he often does when questioned, Jesus tells a parable, two in fact, and this is the second one. Both have to do with authority. We may think Jesus is using hyperbole, literary exaggeration, to make his point. How on earth could the tenant farmers of the story believe they’ll get away with beating and killing the owner’s servants and even his son? With stealing, not just a little produce, but the entire vineyard?

When the prophets of the Old Testament speak of a vineyard, they often mean the Jewish people, the ones God chose to hear and live out his words. So, as the leaders listen to the story, they can hardly miss the fact, that the keepers of the vineyard are them.  They are supposed to care for the people, using their knowledge of the law to help the people grow spiritually. 

At times, the Old Testament leaders did  beat, torture, and even kill God’s messengers, the prophets. They wanted to use their power as they saw fit. Instead of paying attention to God’s messengers, they abused and them. They thought they deserved the honor and power which belong only to God. So what if, for lack of someone to tell them the truth, the “vineyard,” God’s chosen ones, withered and died on the vine.

The ones hearing Jesus’ words are no better than their ancestors. Jesus’ words come true. They kill the Son rather than give up their positions of authority.  So who are the people who will receive the vineyard in the end? Those who, in following Jesus, do the work of tending God’s people, not for their own glory, but for God’s.

Discussion Questions

  • Jesus tells a story about irresponsible leaders, who did not care for God’s people as they should. What would a good leader do? In what way would a good leader “tend the vineyard,” that is help God’s people to grow spiritually?
  • The news article talks about how little thefts can add up and bring serious consequences. What wide-spread consequences for God’s people might result from an increase of selfish actions in the church?
  • How did Jesus’ audience react to his parable? Why do you think they reacted as they did?

Activity Suggestions

  • Have the class discuss and list what they think today’s leaders (political, school, or church) need to hear. Have them choose one idea and make up a parable about it.  A parable is a simple story with a spiritual meaning using two or three (no more) symbols to get a single point across. Act the parable out.
  • In what ways, individually and as a group, can members of the class care for God’s people? Write down the ideas. Plan to carry out at least one of them individually and one as a group.

Closing Prayer

Father of All Good, we ask you to forgive us for the times when we have acted selfishly and hurt others. We thank you that we can be sure of your forgiveness because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Turn us outward to see others’ needs and help us to meet them when we can. May the people around us see the love of Christ in our words and actions. In the Name of your Son, Amen