Septuagesima Sunday – February 16th, 2014 – Matthew 20:1-16
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
With the observance of Transfiguration Sunday last week, we see a change in focus in our readings in Church. We are now in the “Gesima” Sundays, Sundays which have as their focus ideas about how this Christ Jesus, who is indeed true God and true Man, how He relates to the Church. How does Jesus deal with the Church and how does the Church end up responding to Jesus? And from what we see in our texts today, it seems as though we don’t always respond well to God. In fact, we might almost call this Sunday “Grumbling Sunday” – there’s grumbling in the Gospel, grumbling in the Old Testament, and as Paul talks about how as Christians we need self-control and we need to keep on striving towards the goal, he’s probably writing to folks who have been grumbling as well.
Grumbling seems almost to be an obsession in our country. As a Baseball fan I like to say that Baseball is the national pastime – but in truth, it’s probably grumbling – and I’m no exception. I’ve been watching the Olympics – and there’s lots of American journalists grumbling. I enjoy listening to Sports-talk radio, which is basically listening to other people grumble about sports. And I doubt I’m alone – if one were to head to the co-op, what might one hear? If one were to listen to folks talking at their desk at work, what might one hear? If one pops one’s head in the beauty shop or walks past the people standing in line at Walmart, what might one hear? Or shall I bring up politics or the government? Fox News or MSNBC? Americans like to grumble.
The sad thing is that our grumbling is so unneeded. Consider our Gospel text. For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Now, remember this about these laborers, the ones hired first. When the master finds them, they have no job. Without the master finding them, they would have had no work, they would have made nothing, and probably would have gone hungry. Instead, the master finds them, He gives them a good wage – a denarius is considered a solid wage in Jesus’ day, so the master isn’t undercutting them or dealing with them on the cheap. He treats them fantastically. And then, And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace and to them he said, “You, go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They said to him, “because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You go and work in the vineyard too.” So more workers come in, each working less and less time, to where you have folks who only work one hour instead of 12.
Before we continue with the parable, do note one thing about the master in this parable? He wants as many workers as he can find, and he keeps bringing them in. He doesn’t make snap judgments – he doesn’t say to the workers who join at the 11th hour, “Boy, you people must have been real lazy to not find work” – instead, why aren’t you working? Let’s put you to work! Christ deals with people in His Church the same way. Whereas we can make the snap judgments, whereas we can see the person out there in the world who has been having a rather foul and wicked time of it and think to ourselves how horrible they are – God’s approach is different. God’s approach is, “It doesn’t matter what they had been doing or where they had been, they ought to be in Church, they ought to be part of My family.” It’s an astonishing love that God shows, an astonishing desire for the lost – which shouldn’t surprise any of us. He called us into His Church by His Word, by Baptism, why wouldn’t God want to be calling other people in? The lectern, pulpit, and font are all still here, guess God still wants more folks here, the folks you know, that you come across in your life. Whoever they are, they belong here. And when you see someone who isn’t here, someone who doesn’t know or has forgotten Christ’s love, someone who thinks they aren’t good enough to be here, that’s a tragedy. God calls us all to His house.
And when the evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And in receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them the equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” And now the complaining sets in. Why should this lazy bum who hardly did anything, who worked only in the cool of the day get the same thing as me? And they have a reasonable argument – more work should mean more pay! The grumblers view everything in light of what they have done – look at our work. They forget one thing – things all center around the master.
But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Look at how the master has rightly and properly treated these workers who came first. They had no job – he gave them one. He promised them a good wage – he gave them a good wage. In all things the master has done what he said he would – he has treated them completely fairly and honestly. He has done exactly what he said he would – and yet, they grumble. And why – not because of how the master treated them, but because of how the master treated others. If these early workers had been paid first and then sent on their way, if they never knew what the other workers got, would they not have gone home satisfied, content with what the master gave? Instead, when the comparison kicks in, when they see what another has the complaining begins.
So what about us? When we grumble, when we complain about how things are going, is our grumbling because God isn’t providing for us and we are doomed. . . or is it rather a matter of us comparing ourselves to someone else and what they have, and then grumbling, then coveting what the other folk have? That’s the way grumbling works – it ends up being a comparison between you and your neighbor. This person has this better than me, that person gets this when I don’t. And when we do that, we begrudge God His generosity. We see it as evil when God gives good things to our neighbor instead of us. What God chooses to bless you with has nothing to do with your neighbor. Rather, God gives freely to you – rejoice. And yet, instead of focusing our eyes upon God and marveling at His goodness to us, we cast a covetous eye upon our neighbor and are dissatisfied. Or we can even think up excuses why we needn’t show them love, why we shouldn’t serve and care for them. We become stingy, for when we grumble, when we complain, we forget His generosity to us. When we focus on what someone else has, we forget how richly God has blessed us. When we lament how well God treated us in the past, in the good old days, we spurn the blessings He gives us freely now. And in our complaining we not only show no love for our neighbor, the neighbor whom God desires to be a part of His family, we also cease showing love towards God and rather show Him contempt.
So, what should be done? How should God treat us? I am reminded of the threat that my parents would make when I was grumbling about what I got – if you don’t like that you can have nothing instead. Seems a fitting punishment. Or if we were employers and our employee started grumbling, fine – if this isn’t good enough for you, don’t let the door hit you on the way out and go find another job. That’s what we could expect in this world, is it not? But is that how God treats us? No, master in the parable is gentile in dealing with these first workers – Friend, I am doing you no wrong. He calls them friend, he treats even those complainers with courtesy and compassion. He closes no door – he still gives the good wage, even when not appreciated. I imagine this owner would still be willing to hire these folks the next day – no firing, no blacklisting for them.
Know and understand how generous, how patient God is with you. How many times has God continued to give His blessings to you, even when not appreciated? All blessings, be they material blessings or spiritual blessings. When we are not thankful, does God not still give us our daily bread? Behold His great love for you. When we are lax in our devotion and worship, when hearing His Word and receiving His Supper becomes a secondary priority instead of our first, does God not continually welcome us to His House to hear His Word and receive His forgiveness? Behold His great love for you.
This is the point. Christ Jesus, true God and true Man, came into this world precisely to go to the cross and suffer, to pay the penalty for sin, even the sin of grumbling, even the sin of not appreciating Him and thrusting Him to the side. It should be no surprise that God continually calls you – for that is how God relates to you, that is how God deals with you. God is not seeking an excuse to damn you, He is not trying to find a reason to scratch your name out of the book of Life – rather all that He does, everything, is so that you might receive forgiveness for your sins, so that you might be strengthened in faith during the days of your life, so that you might obtain the imperishable prize of heaven. Or in other words, every action, every thing that God does is based out of His love for you. Sin would have you forget this, your flesh would have you cast covetous glances at our neighbors, but God in His Word calls you out of the darkness of sin into His marvelous light so that you always see and know and delight in His love for you, will create in you a clean heart. In all things, remember God’s love, for it is His love that shapes the Church, that shapes you. That is how Christ Jesus deals with the Church – ever showing love, and in that love ever forgiving us with gladness. This is His love for you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the light of the world. Amen