Saturday, January 30, 2021



Matthew 20:1-6; 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. 

There’s a lot of talk today about equality. However, there is also a lot of disagreement about what equality means and looks like. The United States was founded on the idea of human equality before both God and before the law. This sense of equality is ensconced in the words “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence and in the proverb that “justice is blind.” Even so, American history bears the scars of racial, sexual, and other forms of inequality. And, in no way do I agree with those today who claim that our constitution, government, laws, and culture are systemically racist, misogynist, and bigoted. Neither do I endorse the view that the history of our mistakes should be blotted out from books, museums, and public building, squares, and parks. The United States is a nation of people, and people are sinners. Just as there are no perfect people, so there are no perfect nations. Still, we are blessed to live in this freest of all the nations, a nation that believes in and strives towards the ideal of equality even if imperfectly.

One aspect of equality that has dominated the national conversation recently is equality of outcome, the idea that people should have approximately the same material wealth and quality of life regardless of sex, race, education, ability, and numerous other factors. While this sounds great at first hearing, equality of outcome is simply unrealistic because individuals are not the same physically, mentally, in terms of intelligence and ability, or even desires. Attempts to force equality of outcome almost always involve a transfer of income or wealth from wealthier to poorer individuals or coercing people to take on professions and vocations for which they are not equipped or even desire. The United States is founded upon equality of opportunity, towards which we must continually strive. However, equality of outcome cannot be, and should not be, guaranteed.

Life isn’t fair. We don’t get what we deserve. And, when it comes to our lives before our God and Lord, that’s a good thing! Before God, we don’t get what we deserve, nor would we want to. In fact, before God, we do not get what we deserve, eternal punishment in hell, but we get what we don’t deserve, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Our Lord desires to pay us with grace, to pay all of us, without distinction or discrimination, equally, wholly apart from what we deserve, the same gift, forgiveness and eternal life with Him in heaven. That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Only in the case of God’s kingdom of grace are all outcomes equal. Regardless of your sex or race, your intellect or ability, how good or bad you are, how long you’ve worked in the kingdom, how long you’ve been a believer, everyone gets the same pay, the same gift of grace, eternal life with God in heaven.

To illustrate this truth, Jesus taught His disciples saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house.” Yes, the kingdom of heaven is like a man, so we need to pay special attention to this man in Jesus’ parable and what he does. This man went out in the morning to hire workers to work in his vineyard. The first workers hired agreed to a denarius for their day’s work, a fair and respectable wage. The next workers hired weren’t guaranteed a specific wage but they were promised “whatever is right.” Still more workers were hired at different times throughout the day seemingly according to this same agreement. The last workers were hired near the end of the day; they were not promised anything at all but were simply ordered to go to work. At the end of the day, it was these last hired workers that were paid first, and they were paid the same amount those hired first had agreed to, one denarius. Seeing this, those hired first began to think that surely they would receive more than they agreed upon so many hours earlier. But why would they think that? Ah, yes, their sense of fairness and justice, of getting what they deserved for their work. However, when they were finally paid, they were paid exactly what they had agreed upon, one denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house.

They grumbled at the man who had hired them. Why? They received what they themselves agreed to. The master did not treat them unfairly. Truly, their grumbling says much more about themselves than it does the master. Something was wrong with those men. Something was wrong with the Israelites too who grumbled at Moses and the Lord Himself. Something is wrong with you, and something is wrong with me. The master said to his grumbling workers, “‘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?’”

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who chooses what to do with what belongs to him, and he chooses to give the same to all regardless of works or merit. That’s because the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace. The Lord doesn’t give us what we’ve earned and merited – death, but He gives us what we haven’t earned, what we don’t deserve – forgiveness, life, and salvation. Still, there’s more to it than that. There’s a translation problem in the text. The final question of the master is not, “Do you begrudge my generosity,” but rather he asks, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” You see, the grumbling of the workers, of the Israelites, and your own grumbling is not because of our Master, or because we have been treated unfairly, but it is because of our evil eye, because of our sin and because we see things wrongly, badly, and wickedly. We see others prosper and we are jealous because we wrongly believe that we deserve anything good at all and because we do not love our neighbor, because we do not love God.

The truth is that we do not merit or deserve anything good. What we truly merit and deserve for our sin is death. Thanks be to God that He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but that He gives us what we don’t deserve, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ. However, because of sin, our eye is evil and we cannot see things clearly or rightly. Our Lord knows this about us, and He loves us anyway. Though we were idle in this life and world, doing nothing good for ourselves or for anyone else, but grumbling against our Lord and our neighbor, God has called us to work in His vineyard kingdom. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Life isn’t fair. Grace isn’t fair either, thanks be to God. St. Paul compares the Christian faith and life to a race. As men understand races, only one runner wins the prize, a perishable wreath of laurels or a plastic trophy or a polyurethane ribbon. But in the race that is the Christian faith and life, all who cross the finish line, that is, all those who die in faith, no matter how long they have believed and trusted in the Lord, receive the prize, the same prize, the gift of God’s grace in Jesus, eternal life in heaven.

When our eye is evil we cannot see clearly or rightly. We think that God is unjust, unfair, and cruel. And since we do not love God whom we cannot see, we do not love our neighbor whom we can. Our evil eye causes us to covet what our neighbor has and to want it for ourselves, to want him not to have it or to lose what he has. In contrast, our Lord wants to give to your neighbor freely just as He freely gives to you. This is not fair, of course, but thanks be to God that He is gracious to us and not fair with us.

The Lord has called you from idleness to fruitful service in His vineyard kingdom, service to Him through your service to your neighbor. Like our brother Israel, we have all been baptized into Christ and we all eat and drink of His spiritual food and live. In this way He sustains us that we may finish the course of our lives in faith. And, because it doesn’t matter who finishes first or last, if our brother stumbles and falls along the way there is time to stop and help him cross the finish line too. Truly, before our Lord, we are all equal. We are all equally undeserving, and we are all equally forgiven. Life isn’t fair, but neither is grace, thanks be to God. You have been baptized in Christ so that your evil eye might by cleansed and see clearly the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness you have received from the Lord and graciously and lovingly show the same to your brother and sister and neighbor. Christ our spiritual rock is present now that we might eat and drink of Him and receive clarity of sight and sustenance for our lives that we may continue our work in His vineyard kingdom while helping others to cross the finish line with us and receive the crown of eternal life.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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