Fiji, Fijians and God’s Vineyard

The parable of the workers in the Vineyard

Matt. 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.

When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.

And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.

And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

If a lifetime is equated to a day, then a days pay in Jesus’ time of a denarius (one silver coin) will be the reward everyone would get for their toil in God’s service and his vineyard here on earth. But silver and gold or treasures of this world have no place in the Kingdom of God.

So a day’s pay in the context of a life of service to God is Gods Grace and Mercy, freely given to all for our salvation. The text emphasizes the equality and freedom we have in Christ as our savior, who does not have a severance pay formula based on seniority, or years of service in God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Therefore a newborn Christian on their death bed is equally deserving of God’s grace and salvation just as a priest, bishop or a Christian who has spent his or her whole lifetime in the service of God’s Kingdom.

God does not calibrate His Grace according to the positions we have in the church’s hierarchy of power, or seniority in church membership. Too many times, too many of us are too concerned about being accorded recognition for the position we have in the church, or the work we do in the church, or how long we have been in the church before the newbies came. Therefore, the focus on pride, and claims to ownership of what is not ours, but Gods, defeats the purpose of commitment to serve faithfully. Hence the allure of power and recognition clouds our sincerity, dignity and integrity and becomes a source of conflict.

On Sunday as the 13 parishes in the Archdeaconry of Suva/Ovalau gathered for a ‘Thanksgiving service’ for the nation’s journey to elections and the future, the story of the workers in the vineyard spoke volumes about the journey we as Fijians have been on in God’s vineyard here in Fiji, and the rewards we expect for our labor. Not necessarily what the master of the vineyard has planned for us.

As a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation the Itaukei were the first to settle with the original claim to the land as place of origin, which defines, identifies and locates them permanently to land as space, and place of belonging in time. We then had the interactions between Fiji, Tonga and the other Pacific islands; then came the explorers and colonialists, missionaries and traders who also laid their claims. The Melanesians and Indians were the next to be brought in as indentured laborers followed by the Chinese and people from all corners of the world who have come and made Fiji their home.

Fiji is truly the melting pot of the Pacific. Its unique diversity and special quality had moved Pope Jean Paul II to declare Fiji as “the way the world should be.”

But along the way, the different workers in this vineyard have asked for what is due to them because unlike the master of the heavenly vineyard, the masters of the earthly vineyard do not value each worker as equal. Others who have come after have been paid more than those who started laboring over the land in the hot sun from the morning. And so it is only natural that we start to see the workers grumbling against the master.

We hope that the new masters of the vineyard can pay the workers equally, by looking to each sectors needs and addressing them equally, fairly and with justice under the common identity as Fijians. If those on the eleventh hour continue to reap more than the ones who toiled from the morning then we will continue to build towards an unjust structure in society.

While we are still here on earth, let us not forget that there were others who started working the vineyard in the morning, others at nine, at noon, and at three in the afternoon. Those of us who started at the eleventh hour must be thankful for the generosity and the inheritance given to us by those who were here before and unite together to build a better Fiji.

God calls us at different hours to serve this nation and its people, but we do it all to the glory of His name alone. We must always strive to lead wherever we are with love and care, looking out for the interests of the least in society. For the measure of our success in serving God and country is determined by the fate of the least in our communities. If their needs and aspiration are continually trampled upon and inadequately catered for, then we have failed in our duty to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul in (Col. 3:28) says: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female”. While we acknowledge and celebrate our diversity we also rejoice in our common identity as Fijians.

We give thanks to God for our leaders in government and opposition who will take Fiji forward in a new parliamentary democracy. And for our youth and children, eight years of winter has lapsed and a new spring is here with a Constitution which regards all as Fijians, with equal opportunities based on a common citizenship. It is time to explore the potentials God has given each of us to spread our wings and soar like eagles to new heights.

May God’s Peace be with us all.

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Democracy and the return of King David

2 Sam. 19:8b-23
The text talks about the return of King David after he was exiled from Jerusalem by his own son Absalom who conspired to remove power from him.

After Absalom was killed by the commander of Davids army, the King sent word to the elders of Judah, “why should you be the last to bring the king back to the palace…you are my relatives, my own flesh and blood.”

He had won over the hearts of the men of judah and they sent word for the return of the king and all his men.

Who can we see as King David being restored to the throne in Jerusalem? To nationalists, today is the opportunity to vote in those who will restore much of the traditional institutions of power dismantled by Bainimarama. And so they will read the text with the reign and the fate of the current government having parallel nuances to that of Absalom. However Bainimarama also has the equal opportunity to consolidate his vision for change in the hearts of the people with this election.

While the Bible is a source of revelation it is also not a book of answers where we can zealously read our own situations into it and claim it as God’s answer to our dilemma. But it is a guide in which we can reflect prayerfully and allow God to speak to us rather than limiting God to our own persceptions.

At least today,the whole of Fiji are out in numbers, exercising their rights to vote the leaders they want to take Fiji forward. Today marks the return of democracy to Fiji after it was annulled by the coup and the abrogation of the 1997 constitution.

The last eight years has seen many changes, which to some have been good. For others it has not always been good. Many have lost loved ones and others have suffered. But for now at least the work expected of all citizens has been done.
Today citizens vote as Fijians with one person one vote with the freedom to vote for any person they wish under the single constituency.

Just as the nation united yesterday in a thanksgiving service for the release of the 45 soldiers held by Al Nusra in Syria, the nation is also united to see democracy rule return to with parliament allowed to make decisions for the people.

As a new citizen I was privileged to be part of the collective decision to restore democracy to the throne. It is the prayer of the people for a smooth transition of power after parliament is allowed to sit again.

Today Democracy is restored in Fiji.

God bless Fiji!

The moment of truth for Bainimarama

The eight-year-wait by Fijians to exercise their democratic right to choose a government through the ballot is finally here. Its past midnight. Therefore, officially, its election day. In five to six hours people will start queuing at the various polling stations around the country to cast their votes.

Its D-Day and the moment of truth for Bainimarama and his government to see if they have done enough over the last eight years to change the perceptions of the public on the illegal take-over in 2006.

The government’s stance over the last eight years has been to achieve an end that justifies the means. And so government policies such as free education, free bus fares, equal citizenship, mining royalties for landowners etc…have been designed to achieve this.

But was it enough?

We will wait towards the end of voting this evening to see what the ballots decide.