Read this story of a former gang member, Antonio, who escaped a life of violence, drug abuse, and crime, in part because someone was willing to take a risk and give him a job. http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/443711.html This was a turning point in his life that gave him hope in the midst of what some people call a “cloud of hopelessness” among many young people living in poverty.
It has taken more than just a job to get Antonio out of his gang life; the job came along with a support network, people to talk with him, check in with him, and to pray with him. But it does seem to be working for him.
The director of a program and ministry with former gang members can’t hide his enthusiasm for the positive changes that have already taken place in Antonio’s life. “The rewards are far beyond what I expected,” he comments. “Here’s a guy that came with a felony and is now talking about getting out on his own, and he’s paying taxes. You can’t help but get excited about that.”
In the meantime, Antonio says he is taking his life “day by day.” Although his old friends still want to “hang out,” he acknowledges that it would not be the best thing. “I’ve got too much going for me to lose it,” he said.
Can anyone be sure he’ll stay away from his earlier life of crime? “You can’t. It’s all up to me. Either I want to or not,” he said. “But I have faith in God that everything is going to work out for me.”
- Based on your experiences, observing young people around you, or the experiences of your friends, what kinds of things do people turn to or do when they are starving for support, a sense of identity and recognition, to belong to a community, or even just trying to survive day-to-day?
- What are the reasons that employers might be unwilling to hire someone like Antonio?
- What can the church do for people like Antonio? (Are there things your own congregation is doing for young people living in poverty, gang members, or young people who are having problems with the law
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 21, 2008.
(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.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells a parable about an employer (vineyard owner) who ran his company quite a bit differently than most employers. He went out and hired people four different times during the day, including the last group at 5:00 — close to quitting time. Anyone who had not been hired by 5:00 and was still looking for work was probably two things: not a very desirable employee and desperate for work. This employer hired them all! Then he did the strangest thing of all, he paid them all the same amount of money, no matter how long they had worked.
In verse 15, Jesus describes the employer saying to the grumbling, angry workers who had been hired early in the day, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” In other words, the employer has the right to be generous, even ridiculously generous, with his own money and resources.
So what’s the point of this story that hardly seems fair by our standards? Jesus is comparing the employer to God who gives us WAY more than we have earned or deserve. Why? Because God wants to… because God can. God’s sense of justice and love can seem kind of crazy compared to our own!
- What is the greatest thing you have ever received that you know you did not deserve?
- How did receiving that generosity make you act toward others?
- When you consider the world, who would you have the greatest difficulty being generous to? Loving? Forgiving? Seeing as an equal? (Go back and talk about the twist in Jesus’ story: loving those we’d prefer to hate; being generous with those we’d like to see suffer.)
Learn about and offer support for a prison or rehabilitation ministry in your community or state. Contact your Lutheran Social Services office to find out what they do for prisoners or those just released from prison. Find out how you can help.
Generous God, we thank you that you give to us, and to everyone, far more than we could ever deserve or earn through our own work or effort. Inspire gratitude and generosity in us, even when we are reluctant or afraid to be so. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Contributed by Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church