Septuagesima – February 11th and 12th, 2017 – Matthew 20
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In our Gospel text we are presented two ways of viewing our relationship to God. There are two ways of understanding how we relate to God, each with drastically different results. Do we relate to God on the basis of our works or on the basis of His grace, freely given? Now – some of you may be thinking that I may have run myself into a bit of a sticky wicket with this introduction – because we know as good Lutherans at we are saved by Grace through faith – sola gratia... and yet, the Gospel text was laborers in the vineyard. Laborers. Workers. Um... okay, how in the wide wide world of sports is a story about workers really going to be about grace? Let's dig in and see, shall we?
“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 out into his vineyard.” I don't know, Pastor – sounds like things are all about works. See, the Kingdom is like workers working in the vineyard. Not so fast, my friend! First of all, the Kingdom is like the master – if you want to understand things the master is the focus – but keep that in your pocket for later. But also, let's consider these laborers. This isn't the story of an industrious and plucky kid who applied for job after job and finally got one, then worked his way up from the mail room. These workers are dejected. Unemployed. The day dawns and they've got nothing to do. No means of income. Moreover, they are just workers. Unskilled labor. They'd be in a word desperate, desperate for anything. And up walks the master, and he sees them. They're not farmers, they probably don't know the first thing about tending grapes, which actually is a rather technical and specific sort of farm work. So they'd have to be shown the basics and kept watch over, here's how you harvest the grapes off without killing the plant. And yet, the master gives them a job, a job they probably aren't qualified for. And then, he makes them a great offer. A whole denarius. That is a good wage for a skilled worker. These are folks who would be thrilled to get minimum wage, who'd probably work for less; the master gives them Union standard. It's a good deal – they agree – the word in Greek for agree here is “symphony” - these workers are singing like birds because it's a great deal for them.
Our text continues. “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 about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.” Now note this – the master isn't necessarily looking for more workers – he doesn't need more labor. The vineyard is taken care of – so he's off to the market to do his shopping or what have you, and he comes across some poor stiffs standing around starving, and out of great compassion, go on, you guys go to the vineyard and I'll pay you what's right. And they go – no contract, no dedicated amount – just glad to get anything. And same at the sixth hour and the ninth, he keeps giving more people jobs, jobs he doesn't need to give out. And the climax of this is the 11th hour – “And about the 11th 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 into the vineyard too.'” One hour left in the working day – and here's some more wretched folks. Hungry wretches. Eh, even you, even though you'll not even get a full hour in because it will take time to get to the vineyard, and then the foreman will have to find something for you to do – you guys head there too. He's giving everyone a job – this is no way to run a business! This is charity.
And the master's stupid, foolish business sense continues. “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call up the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the 11th hour came, each of them received a denarius.” Do you see? This is utter gift. Alright – you've been here not even a full hour, here's a full day's pay. They don't deserve this; this is utter gift! Of course, that's the point. The Master is always about giving gifts, giving gifts freely, sight unseen. The Master sees folks in need, and he will use his vineyard not for his benefit and profit, but to take care of and provide for these people in need. What love! What generosity! What gift! Why, we all should sing hymns – symphonies should ring out at this love and generosity!
However – there's a change coming. Remember the laborers we first saw? As the Sun was rising, there they were, desperate, without any hope – and the master gives them hope and purpose and a job and a good wage – a cushy deal beyond their imaging. Well, as they come up to get their pay... “Now, when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house saying, '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.'” They grumbled. You've made us the same as these folks who came last! Well, let me ask the question. Aren't you the same? Aren't you both folks who woke up this morning unemployed without any idea of how you were going to put bread on the table? Aren't you both unskilled workers who don't have any leverage to bargain with? Aren't you both folks who were called happily into the vineyard, who went rejoicing? You ARE equal – and the master has treated you all equally.
But they aren't thinking about the master anymore. They aren't thinking about what he has said, what he has offered, what he has promised them. Nope, they are thinking about their works, what they've done. And so the master jumps in. “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?'” You've got no grounds to complain! I've been above board with you, and in fact I've been generous to you. I've given you a good wage – you thought it was great earlier. “But we've born the heat of the day!” Yeah, well, you're equal to the other workers still, because it was really hot in the market place too, and unlike them, you knew that you'd be able to eat tonight. Might want to cut them some slack and be happy for them and happy for yourself, because you've done really well, far better than you had expected this morning. Take what is given, and rejoice.
So – how are you going to look at your day, oh laborer? Are you going to rejoice in the generosity of the master, are you going to enjoy and receive the gifts with thanksgiving, or are you going to grouse? Are you going to view things through a lens of “works” and think about what you deserve and get all angry and upset, forgetting the fact that you didn't deserve a single thing this morning when you walked into that marketplace? How it's going to be – grace or works?
How's it going to be, O Christian? Are you going to view your relationship to God on the basis of His grace or on the basis of your works? Your sinful flesh will stupidly, foolishly try to tell you it ought to be about works. Your pride and ego will focus on all that you've done, how much you've done – especially how much more you've done than that person over there – and man, doesn't God owe it to you, doesn't He just owe you blessings and you should never have any troubles... and then, you'll just be miserable and angry and upset and you'll grumble at God. And its stupid grumbling – because you know what your wages are, what you deserve? The wages of sin is death, buddy. You want that wage to be paid – then instead of focusing on some false, pollyanna tale of how much you've done for God, you sinner, you should probably cut out all the talk about works out and instead simply pause and think about all the good things that He gives you freely because of who He is.
That's what Jesus teaches us here – that all that we have is really a gift from God. And more than that, we should learn to view all this in terms of gift, rather than being tempted by our flesh to think of it in terms of what we've earned. Consider the prayer that Jesus taught us. We don't pray, “pay us our daily bread” - it is, “give us our daily bread.” It's gift. Even if you work for it, it's still gift, because your body, your talents, your abilities are all gifts from God. And they are good gifts to have – ask anyone who's getting up there in age or who's become disabled what a great gift the ability to work is. So there's no room for boasting – all the physical blessings in our lives are gifts, and gifts we didn't earn, gifts freely given by God. Likewise, we continue in the Lord's prayer, “forGIVE us our trespasses, as we forGIVE those who trespass against us.” Did you hear the “give” there? Forgiveness is always a gift – you can't earn forgiveness, if you've “earned” it's not forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that is given, freely. That's just part and parcel of the word. And Christ would have us see and learn that everything in our life is to be centered around the blessings He gives, the blessings of body and soul. Your stuff is gift, your sins are forgiven and you are gifted Christ's own righteousness – and likewise you give these gifts to your neighbor.
Everything centers around God's gifts. Will the day often be hard and harsh – filled with scorching heat? Sure – but you face those days not in doubt, not in fear as to whether or not God likes you, or if He is punishing you, or whether you've done enough to earn His love – nor with looking at your neighbor and grumbling about how easy he has it. No – you face this heat knowing that you've been drenched in the cooling waters of baptism, knowing that you are joined to Christ – that you are bound to Him for life everlasting, no matter what hardships come your way. You know where you daily bread is coming from – indeed Christ gives you the Bread of Eternal Life itself in His Supper. It's all gift to you – and when we see things this way, when His Word silences our sinful flesh, we then see the wondrous love that He freely gives to us. The Master calls us into His kingdom, not because of what we do for Him, but simply because He delights in giving good things to us. It really is all about His grace, not our works. And that is a thing of joy. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +