SERMON FOR SEPTUAGESIMA, Feb. 1, 2015
MATTHEW 20:1-16
Vicar Zachary Marklevitz


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Imagine leaving everything behind; your job, your career, your studies, your home, your family and friends. Everything that you have worked for, built up, and stored away, is suddenly gone. In an instant your life changes!


Peter related to this. Before Jesus called Peter as a disciple, he resided in a village called Bethsaida. His trade was fishing. As a fisherman, Peter would have been crafty. In those days the boat had to be built sturdy in order to bear the stress of winds that pushed the sail, while the weight of a net tugged in another direction. Also, Peter likely crafted lines with bronze hooks, along with some type of net. Any boat, hook, or net was high maintenance because of the consistent mending and repairing from normal wear and tear. Yet, when he was called by Jesus to follow him, he immediately left his boat, his father, and everything behind! Peter knew what it was like to have everything change in an instance.


SERMON FOR SEPTUAGESIMA, Feb. 1, 2015
MATTHEW 20:1-16
Vicar Zachary Marklevitz


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Imagine leaving everything behind; your job, your career, your studies, your home, your family and friends. Everything that you have worked for, built up, and stored away, is suddenly gone. In an instant your life changes!


Peter related to this. Before Jesus called Peter as a disciple, he resided in a village called Bethsaida. His trade was fishing. As a fisherman, Peter would have been crafty. In those days the boat had to be built sturdy in order to bear the stress of winds that pushed the sail, while the weight of a net tugged in another direction. Also, Peter likely crafted lines with bronze hooks, along with some type of net. Any boat, hook, or net was high maintenance because of the consistent mending and repairing from normal wear and tear. Yet, when he was called by Jesus to follow him, he immediately left his boat, his father, and everything behind! Peter knew what it was like to have everything change in an instance.


A few verses before today’s Gospel reading, Peter asked a question of Jesus; “See, we [the disciples] have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Peter’s question should not surprise us because this is a common thought—“What’s in it for us?” Jesus answers in two ways. First, he responds in a direct way to Peter’s question. Here, the uniqueness of the calling of the twelve is revealed. They were called by Jesus into the Office of the Holy Ministry to continue the work of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But Peter wanted to know if their reward would be great. Peter, who left everything behind, wanted to know if he would receive a greater pay than those in other walks of life, or than the pastor who is ordained later in life and whose ministry involves no physical persecution, no loss of property or life. Scripture reveals that Peter was imprisoned and threatened and whom church history tells us was crucified. Surely, one would this that Peter’s reward would be greater. Jesus’ second response is the text for today’s Gospel reading: the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. This parable is for those called into the Office of the Holy Ministry. It also speaks to all Christians.


Jesus says, “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.” The laborers agreed to work the full day for a denarius. A denarius was a normal wage for a full day of work. For the average person of this time, a denarius was the most that one could get paid in a single day. The possibility of overtime wasn’t an option. Either a worker labored a full day or less. The understanding was that a full day of work meant a denarius while less than a full day’s work paid less than a denarius.


The first group of workers would have begun working in the vineyard around six in the morning. After three hours of working, the first group saw another group join them in the field. However, the second group did not verbally agree to a denarius pay. Instead, the master of the vineyard said, “Whatever is right I will give you.” The master faithfully goes out and finds other workers for his vineyard three more times that day. The last group was hired by the master in the eleventh hour. This meant that they would have only worked one hour. The only group of workers that agreed on a payment was the first group. The rest worked with an assumption of getting paid, but without a monetary agreement. The agreement was that they would receive what the master deemed just.

 

That evening, the master called in his workers. The first group he paid was the last group he hired. This group only worked for a single hour. Assume the master had calculated each worker’s pay according to the hours he labored. This assumption is based on the fact that a denarius equaled a full day’s work.


Yet, each worker that the master hired received a denarius. Regardless of when the master hired him, he paid everyone fully. The first group of hired workers was the last group to be paid. They worked more hours and battled the scorching heat of the sun. For that day, these workers left everything behind for the master. Yet, their pay was the same as those who only worked one hour.


Like Peter, and like the first group of workers in the field, we want our work to be recognized. We want justification for our hard work. So we ask, “What’s in it for us?”


In this hard work we feel like the Israelites. We become thirsty in a physical and spiritual way. In our thirst, we grumble as the Israelites grumbled. We fail to trust God’s Word and we ask, “Why did you bring us here, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” No matter how long we have been a baptized Christian, we come across trials and tribulations. We then question the master, “You have made everyone equal to me.”

 

In this race, we as runners compete as if we can win, as if our works can achieve spiritual success, as if our Christian resume grants us privileges and unlimited wishes before God, as if He were some kind of genie in a bottle. Paul said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?”


Throughout the day, the master faithfully went out and hired workers. Every three hours or so, he brought in workers into his vineyard. In the end, the master treated all his workers the same; those who worked all day for him and those who only worked an hour for him. He hired the first workers as he hired the last workers. The pride of the first workers was evil to the gracious master. When the master was questioned, he said to the first workers, “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?”

 

Like the first group of workers, our pride gives us a sense of entitlement. Our pride becomes evil for what is good. In the Greek, the phrase, “Or do you begrudge my generosity,” is literally, “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” The attitude resulting from the workers’ labor was evil. The generosity of the master was offensive. What they recognized as good became evil before the master. The master’s actions were completely unexpected! Yet, only the workers that took their eyes off of the master were insulted. They looked away from good and turn towards what they deemed as just.


The first group of workers did not realize that they were working with the others that were hired. Instead, they were comparing their time and labors to those who were hired later. They considered themselves superior to the others. They considered themselves first by comparison. But God did not call us into a work of individual ministries. He called us to work of one field. We have been called to run the race with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been called to receive the one ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. We do not carry out multiple ministries, but we run the race in unity. We are to keep our eyes on our Master who ministers to us. We share in the race of those who have run it before us. Christ has won the prize. He gives the prize to us. The rock that Moses struck and quenched the thirst of the Israelites was Christ. Today, we do not run in a race to win. Instead, we come along side others. We rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep.

 

Jesus has already received the prize. He is first. Christ fully bears the scorching of the heat and the work. His work does not result in evil, but with generosity and salvation. Jesus did not run aimlessly, but directly to the cross. He heard our cries of thirst and He spilled out his blood for us. He heard our cries of exhaustion because of what we have given up. So, for us, He sacrificed Himself on the cross until death. He became last for our sake. He came as eternal God to die a death that belonged to us. The first became last so that we could be first. Just as Moses struck the rock and water came forth for the Israelites, Jesus struck death and eternal Life came forth for us.


Jesus forgives us of our pride. He continues to quench our eternal thirst. When we cry out, “Give us something to drink!” Jesus invites us to kneel before the altar and rest as we receive His prize. He is the One who runs the race and receives the prize. We, in our exhaustion, thirst, and sin, receive full forgiveness of His body and His blood. We repent of our hard work that results in an evil eye before our gracious Lord. 


Jesus’ gracious forgiveness is ongoing, from the day of Moses to today. God treats all those who are workers the same. In the grace of God there is no distinction on the Last Day. God will not judge us for the time we spend in the field, but will give us a full day’s work in Christ. Whether we receive faith at the beginning of the day, or at the last hour, we receive Christ. Whether we were baptized in the family of God as a new born or given faith on our deathbed, we receive Christ.


Our Master faithfully goes out and brings us into His field to work. He generously gives what is His, without merit or worthiness in us. Regardless of when we have been called in, we receive the full payment of Jesus’ work on the cross. We receive His death and resurrection as we are covered by the waters of Holy Baptism. This is the agreement that our Master deemed just. Our Master is gracious. In faith, we all receive Christ. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a