Septuagesima Sunday – Matthew 20:1-16 – February 8th and 9th, 2020
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
I am an unabashed fan of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special – and not just for the fact that it's about the one time a year Scripture actually gets read on TV. No, I actually like how dark and cutting some of the humor is. And my favorite part is where Sally has Charlie write out her Christmas Letter and asks Santa to send her tens and twenties – fifties and hundreds today. And when Charlie Brown gives his “good grief” Sally says, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” That is fantastic social commentary, and it should remind us today that the more things change, the more they stay the same – all I want is what is coming to me, all I want is my “fair” share.
One could easily imagine the workers in the vineyard, the ones who had come early in the morning and had worked all day saying the same thing. There they were, and they saw the Vineyard owner toss out money to these Johnny come latelies – these lazy bums who had only worked half a day, or barely an hour. Surely, surely when we who have worked the hardest get paid, we will get a just reward! And on receiving [a denarius] 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.” Where's the money? Pony up the cash? Deniarii in at least 2 and 3s! All we want is what we have coming to us! All we want is our fair share. The story of the workers in the Vineyard is such an interesting story because on the face of it, it does seem quite unfair. We like people to get what they work for. We don't like people to be simply given something when we have to work for it – whether the narrative is how you hate the lazy rich who are just given everything by their parents and never have to work or whether the narrative is grousing at the lazy poor who just get government handouts – even to this day someone getting something for free when we have worked for it always irritates us.
So listen careful when I say this. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.
Consider again the story. At first glance we can understand why the laborers who worked all day might be angry and annoyed – why they are so upset at the end of the day. But that happens only when they and we don't understand, don't remember where they were at the beginning of the day. 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. We hear that and we can just skim on by it, but this is important. Where are the laborers when we start? What's the situation of the laborers before we come across them? They are unemployed. In a day and age when there are no social agencies, when there is no unemployment insurance, when the Law is “If a man does not work, then he shall not eat.” And these laborers, whom the master finds, are people who have no job. Ponder that – they are there, standing, and they literally do not know where their next meal will come from. That's their situation. They wake up and don't know if they will be able to buy bread for their family. And frankly, there's every reason to think that they might not be able to – but then the master comes. Here, come to my vineyard, and I'll give you a good salary – a Denarius – a living wage! He doesn't undercut their pay, he doesn't lowball them – he doesn't minimum wage them, or give them a bit of cash all off the books like migrant workers. This is solid, like a union job falling into their laps. And they were happy – as they ought to have been – this is Kingdom of Heaven stuff, this is how things ought to be.
At that point they knew how generous the master was – because he dealt with them generously in hiring them. No shenanigans, no funny business – just dealing with them generously straight from go. And unsurprisingly, the master continues to be generous. He hires more and more workers throughout the day – finds more and more people who are becoming ever increasingly desperate and despondent, who see more and more doom and gloom and hunger and poverty enveloping them, and over and over the master calls them – here, come, I'll give you what is right. And he does – he takes care of all of them. Everyone gets treated well – a Denarius – a full wage, enough for life and the joys and comforts there of.
But by the end of the day, some of the workers aren't seeing the masters' generosity towards them anymore. Instead, they only see how others took short cuts, got off easy. I had to sweat it out – how come they get the same as me? Greed and envy cloud everything, and their joy and peace is turned to anger and discontent. But what had changed? The master hadn't changed – he was still his same old generous self. Their situation hadn't changed – they got exactly as they were promised – the good that they were promised. No, the only thing that had changed was their idea of what was “fair” - of what they should have coming to them. They forgot that when they woke up that morning it would have been fair for them to go hungry, that poverty and death was what they had coming to them, all except for the fact that this master went out and found them and called them to the vineyard. They forgot, and so they were miserable.
The Kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace – that is, it is a kingdom of God's free forgiveness and favor, given not because of what we do or will do but simply because it is God's good and gracious will to redeem sinful man. And that's what we are – sinful men and women – and we must remember that by rights, our “fair share” is death and hell. But to see that we do not get death and hell as our only share, Christ Jesus comes, God Himself becomes man, and He Himself goes to the Cross – He bears the true burden of the day, the true scorching heat in our place so that we do not have to – and He rises, and in His grace and mercy, by the Gospel He gives us life eternal and salvation. He gives it to us – to some of us who have been faithful since childhood, to some of us who have often wandered off but have been called back, to some of us who lived idle lives not knowing Christ until lately – but to all of us the same, incredible gift of life and salvation.
This is wondrous and profound and beautiful. Here we have a congregation – people from various walks of life with different stories, all of whom God has called into His kingdom, and here we receive the same forgiveness and life in Christ. I speak the same absolution to you all, the same Scriptures are read to you, the same sermon is proclaimed to you – the same Holy Supper for you – the same blessing upon you. And we are brought to stand before God forgiven and righteous in Christ and prepared for life everlasting. But know that you will be tempted to despise this. That Satan wants you to hate this. That your sinful flesh wants to fight against this. Oh, it's nice that I get forgiveness – but how can so-and-so just get forgiveness. Why, I'm surprised that lightning doesn't strike them. There's a reason there's a big giant Cross on that wall and not a big giant lightning bolt. We all live under the Cross, all equally forgiven.
But in somethings we are not equal. Not all have the same life, the same story of how God called us here. We don't all have the same talents or gifts or opportunities. We don't all have the same burdens and temptations. We don't all have the same failures, and frankly we don't all have the same opportunity to fail. And so how do we see those differences? Do we see them in light of God's generosity – see how gracious God is in how He has richly blessed my neighbor – see how generous God is in how He has kept me from that harm, that danger – see how generous God is in that He has rescued that person from that trial. Or do we see these differences sinfully with a wicked and jealous eye – why don't I have what they have, why are they here when they've failed so and I haven't, why can't everything just be my way? One way of looking and seeing is by faith, and there is joy and wonder, and always more of it. The other way is of sin and death, and then there is no end to your discontent and sourness. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.
Yet once again, this day, the Master calls us unworthy sinners into His Kingdom, and He gives us precisely what He has promised us. He Himself will come and be our God, be with us. He will treat us as His children and the heirs that He has declared us to be in Holy Baptism, and He will give us His rich feast – now, this day as well as eternally in the life of the world to come. And this is for you. This is His generous goodness for you. God grant us His Spirit to strengthen our faith so that we receive it as such. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +