Sunday, January 28, 2018


Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You have justly deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment. That’s what you, yourself, confessed just a few minutes ago. And, you’re right. You’re absolutely dead right! What you have earned, what you have merited, what you have deserved for your sins and iniquities is punishment now, and punishment in hell forever thereafter. So, let me ask you, do you want what you deserve? No, I imagine that you do not want what you deserve. You do not want temporal and eternal punishment. Rather, what you really want is that which you don’t deserve. You want God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And, so I say to you, be careful what you ask for!
We have always been a people who believe that we deserve something. Indeed, the entire economic and social structure of our nation is founded upon a fair wage for honest labor, an equal chance for all to get ahead and to be successful by hard work and perseverance. Those are the kinds of values and attitudes that built our great cities, the interstates and highways that cross our nation, the great middle class whose greatest desire is to own their own home, a car, and 1.5 children. That’s what most of us think we deserve. However, there has been a significant cultural change since at least the 1960’s in what people think they deserve. Today, what people deserve has much less to do with what they have earned or merited than it has to do with what they believe they are entitled to out of some newly contrived sense of social justice and human rights. Today, people are not as concerned about what they deserve for their labor, as they are what they believe society owes them because of their gender, their race, class, or some other social metric. Today it is commonly believed that women deserve to earn the same as men, not because of equal skills, abilities, and labor, but simply because they are women, and it is denied that there is any significant difference between women and men. Similarly, it is commonly believed today that racial and ethnic minorities deserve special treatment, privileges, and entitlements, not because of their skills, abilities, and labor, but simply because they are minorities, and it is believed that the majority have been the beneficiaries of unjust privilege. All of this is simply to state the obvious: Today, people believe that they deserve good things, not because of their skills, abilities, and labor, but because of social justice, which values equality and fairness above reality and truth, which probably don’t exist anyway.
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because of this, Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard is every bit as timely and provocative today as it surely was in the first century. Jesus taught this parable in response to His disciples’ dismay at His words concerning a rich young man, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then, Peter voiced the dismay of all saying, “Who then can be saved?” The rich young man had kept the LORD’s commandments, and yet his love for his riches prohibited him from following Jesus. In contrast, the disciples had left their careers, their homes, and their families to follow Jesus. The disciples believed that the rich young man deserved the kingdom because of his obedience, and that they deserved the kingdom because of their sacrifice. In response to their dismay, Jesus taught them in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard that the kingdom of heaven is not deserved, earned, or merited, but is given as a gift by the grace of God alone.
“The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus taught, “is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Only with those hired first was a wage determined, a denarius, a fair and typical wage for a day’s labor. This agreement was accepted without complaint. With each of the laborers hired later in the day, however, all that was promised was “whatever is right.” Again, this was accepted by all without complaint. Indeed, all was well until the end of the workday when the owner of the vineyard sent his foreman to pay the laborers their wages. The foreman was instructed to pay those hired last first. They each received a denarius, the same wage promised the laborers hired first in the day. No doubt, those hired last were delighted with their pay. They never could have hoped to earn a full day’s wage for an hour’s work! Those hired first, however, were not so enthused. They thought they would receive even more than the wage they agreed to. That fact alone is indicative that some new metric is at play. Why should they think they would receive more? They had agreed upon the fixed wage of a denarius for a day’s work, and they were satisfied with that. What had changed? Why should they expect the rules to suddenly be changed? No longer were they interested in truth or rightness, but they wanted to what was fair, what was equitable. You have to admit, we tend to be sympathetic with them, don’t we? Indeed, they’re complaint resonates with us: “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.” “It’s not fair!” we protest with them. But, they received precisely what was promised them, what they had happily agreed upon. Where was the ground for their complaint? There was none. Truly, those hired late in the day got a good deal. We might even call it grace. And, something about this arrangement, Jesus teaches, is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
If we understand the New Testament epistles to be commentary upon the Gospels, then surely St. Paul explains Jesus’ parable in a simple statement in his Epistle to the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” The promise of the Gospel was first made to God’s chosen people, to Abraham and his descendants, the Jews. Truly, the Jews are akin to those hired early in the day in Jesus’ parable. However, it was God’s good and gracious will to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles as well. The Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day balked at the fact that Jesus accepted and ate and drank with Gentiles, with sinners, and the unclean. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the infant Church was divided over the acceptance of the Gentiles and whether or not they must be circumcised and observe the dietary laws of the Jews. Likewise, on the Day of Pentecost, the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled saying that God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people alike, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old. Indeed, God so loved the world – the whole world, and everyone in it without exception – that He gave His only Son. God did not give us what we deserved for our sin and guilt – temporal and eternal punishment – but He gave us what we did not deserve – forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life in Jesus.
The only proper response to such grace is to say “Thank you” and to glorify God by telling others the Good News that they have been justified and forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. To insist that God is unfair is to begrudge His generosity, or, as the Greek reads literally, for your “eye to become evil” because of our LORD’s goodness. Our LORD does not wish to deal with us on the basis of what we deserve, but on the basis of His abounding grace in Christ. The first – those who rely on their own merits – will be last, and the last – those who rely on Christ – will be first. Indeed, Christ, the true Rock, was struck for us all, without exception, and from His riven side upon the cross flowed the water of Holy Baptism, and His Blood of the Holy Eucharist. All of the children of Israel were baptized into the cloud and the sea, and they all drank from the same spiritual Rock. The Cloud, the Sea, and the Rock were Jesus, the same Jesus into whom you were baptized and from whom you now drink and live. No, He does not give us what we deserve. Thanks be to God that He graciously gives us what we do not deserve! Go and share and tell this Good News to all without exception to the glory of His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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