You just can't please some people. In today’s Old Testament lesson we hear of the ungrateful grumbling of a people who only months before had been oppressed and used cruelly by their Egyptian slave masters. "Why didn't God just kill us in Egypt? At least we had food there!" Even though they had all been involved in that miraculous flight from Egypt, they had witnessed the power of God in the Plagues and in the parting of the Red Sea, they were still unable to summon together enough faith to realise that if God could do all that then keeping them fed in the desert lands was going to be a doddle, easy. Perhaps they had not really thought of God as being responsible. Perhaps they had not seen past the man, Moses. Not the power of God, just the magic of Moses, that's what got them out! Moses the hero who had led them out of slavery soon became Moses the second rate politician who had talked them all into this mess. If things go well, look for someone to praise, but if they go badly then look for someone to blame! Moses was unruffled by this. He was a man who could see the bigger picture. "You're not grumbling against me," he said "You are complaining against God." God, of course, provided for their needs with Manna and quails, but as we know that wasn't the end of the grumbling, and although for a time the people were happy, their faith enhanced by the material comforts of food, the rest of the bible is filled with occasions where their focus slipped from concentrating on God, choosing to attribute or blame more mortal causes for their fortune or misfortune. Moses was quick to point out to them that it was God who had heard them and provided for them.
Paul, at the time of writing his letter to the Philippians, had much cause to grumble. He was at the time imprisoned in a cell in Rome, but even under these conditions he produces encouragement for the church in Philippi with the word 'joy' featuring often throughout the letter. The difference between the attitude of Paul and that of those grumbling Israelites could not have been greater. Paul is faced with two possibilities. At the mercy of his Roman jailers he will either die soon, or he will live on. If he had the choice, what should do? Death would bring him into company with Christ, something he wanted very much to achieve, but living would also give opportunity to live for Christ, spreading further and encouraging his message of love and salvation. Paul 'chooses' to live, and encourages the Philippians to live lives 'worthy of the Gospel of Christ', being unafraid of suffering or anyone that might oppose them as a result of their faith.
As Christians we face difficulties and differences of opinion with those around us. We are faced with choices that tempt us to live in ways that do not coincide with Gospel teaching. Often it might seem that the way people choose to enjoy themselves, especially as reflected in tabloid newspapers, is widely at odds with the behaviour we associate with Christian living. Although none of us can follow perfectly the example our Lord gave we try to do our best to keep clear of as many evils as possible. In the parable of the rich landowner we see apparently gross unfairness in the way an employer treats his workforce. Those who had worked all day felt slighted and cheated when they found out that others who had hardly worked for an hour were receiving the same wage as they. Their focus, like the children of Israel was on the people around them and in looking at how much they were paid they were jealous and envious of their good fortune. The landowner tells them straight. 'Didn't we agree a wage in advance? Have I treated you badly, short changed you?' Of course the workers had been paid a fair wage. What was difficult for them was that the landowner had chosen to offer the same prize regardless of how late they were called to join the workforce. His generosity provoked suspicion and envy. So we might think if I get to the end of my life, having been totally bad, and then suddenly convert, like the man crucified with Jesus, I will go to heaven, so why not make the most of being thoroughly wicked in the mean time? In this parable each time the landowner went out and called in workers. If they had said, 'No, but I'll be along five minutes before sunset to pick up the money.' there could have been no agreement. The agreement is between us and God from the time we are called and the prize could not be greater because it is already the most precious thing we could imagine. Membership of the Kingdom of God. The more who are called, however late in life, to seek the kingdom of God, the nearer that Kingdom comes to us on earth, and so envy and jealousy of those called late becomes wholly inappropriate.