SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – 9/24/17
AT THE END OF THE DAY THE MASTER’S GENEROSITY IS STRIKINGLY GRACIOUS!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; Amen.
When those hired first came, they thought 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 with us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied … Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Jesus’ question “do you begrudge my generosity?” literally reads, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” This master’s approach with his laborers would surely cause an evil eye in workplaces today perhaps even lawsuits and bankruptcy. In the university setting it would lead to meaningless grades and credits. In the worldly realm even Scripture says, “If a man does not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Jesus however was not teaching how to run a business or a university. He is first teaching His apostles about the preaching office in the kingdom of heaven. The term He used for “laborers” is the same word He used when He said, “Beg the Lord of the harvest to throw out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38). In another place He said of the worker proclaiming His kingdom, the laborer deserves his food (Matt 10:10). Of service by His called laborers surely what God says holds true – My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Jesus takes aim at the apostles. They were sinfully prone to jockey for position as called workers in His kingdom (Matt 20:20-28). They had just asked what reward they would receive in the kingdom (Matt 19:27-30). While Jesus kept predicting His crucifixion and resurrection, they postured for first place and honored seats. By way of this parable Jesus acts to cut off prideful superiority among them. His call into His ministry is solely a gift of God’s grace. The one attribute these workers had in common until God chose them was being idle or unoccupied in the kingdom. The men who worked 12 hours and bore the heat of the day had nothing over on the men who worked only one hour. James and John had no right to expect positions of honor over Matthew, the hated tax collector who came a bit later to labor in the vineyard. None of the apostles had a right to expect grander treatment than St. Paul who for a time persecuted the Church. He also was a worker in God’s vineyard, chosen by Christ and put in place for the Gospel.
In God’s kingdom, the pay scale is based upon grace, not merit. The first workers had not been wronged in any way. God gave them exactly what He promised - yet they grumbled against the Master. Notice carefully – the substance of their complaint! It was that God had been too generous with those who came later. This generosity the owner makes obvious saying to his foreman “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” The Owner purposely pays in reverse order letting those who worked all day (the firsts) see the one-hour laborers (the lasts) receive the full wage then also the three and six and nine hour workers - all the same.
This is the matter of offense – the owner’s generosity! No one is under payed! That which calls forth grumbling - is that some see others as overpaid in comparison to the work they thought they had done. Jesus does not deny that they bore the burden and the scorching heat of the day. There is work and heat to bear in God’s kingdom. But the master responds, ‘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 gave to you. The extreme danger here is making comparisons in heavenly matters. The firsts were convincing themselves that God was wronging them. His generosity to others seems unfair to them. They want a pay scale in their control – making horizontal judgments about their own labor and about the worth of others. So also we are tempted to evaluate and contrast! Although we cannot stand before God relying on anything we have done, we easily presume to rate others on a scale we invent! So deep is our corruption. Such comparison is wickedness. Comparative Christianity is always deadly to the one comparing whether in the family, the congregation, or the church at large! Comparative Christianity does not rest unceasing in Jesus. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
The kingdom truth that Jesus taught here applies to every vocation in which His saints serve Him. Just as the apostles were prone to compare themselves and their work – so pastors today are tempted by sideway glances of dissatisfaction or coveting! The sin of envy bubbles up in every vocation! Laity are no less tempted to compare their service in the church. In politics we are told by some that we should view with disdain the one-percenters. In Church circles we are more quietly deceived to view with disdain the eighty-percenters. Pastor - you know that twenty percent of the membership often does eighty percent of the volunteering and eighty percent of the giving. Obviously the other eighty percent do not measure up. They are not in the same class with us real doers.
Dear Christians – this shows that the focus of one’s heart is not joyfully on Christ. You see, the grumbling of the firsts occurs because they stop looking at the master and instead cast their gaze on fellow workers. Instead of asking in faith – What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? – they grumbled about God’s gracious benefits to others. You made them equal to us - is the charge (20:12). In God’s kingdom that is the promise – not the problem. In fact the promise of the master is that I make you all equals – united to me - as a gift! The wages in the kingdom of heaven are grace wages not merit wages.
This means the Christian who takes heat for decades speaking God’s truth in love receives the identical eternal wage as the culturally-compromising person in whom God’s Word works repentance later in life. There are no second class citizens or second class workers in the kingdom of heaven. When such thoughts begin to enter our mind God calls us to repentance. Thinking that we are firsts – will result in us becoming lasts. It is God who began a good work in you and it is He who will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6).
The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house…and this Master’s generosity is beyond comparison! This Master pays wages based upon the work of the man telling this parable - which parable describes His own ministry. To make the trek from farm to market and back five times in a single day is simply unheard of. In real life – it doesn’t happen! The Master would surely know how many workers are needed for the day. He would not have to keep going and calling and going and calling more laborers in order to give them a living wage even to the last hour.
But with this Master the calling continues. Jesus here describes His own searching and calling ministry! He comes to you where you live and loves you where you are! He comes inviting sinners into His kingdom throughout their lives. Some He brings in the first hour (think of John the Baptizer in the womb - think of infant Rufus Michael reborn today at the font)! Some He brings in the last hour (think of the thief dying next to Him on Calvary – think of someone caught in unbelief for whom you continue to pray). He works on the principle of grace by which we sinners get what we do not deserve. Thank God He is unfair!
In Christ God moves us from the last place of rebels (separated from God) to the first place of His children (baptized into His Name and receiving His kingdom!) Today Rufus Michael was called from idleness into the kingdom of God. None of us have a different Baptism, different Gospel, different Faith or different Sacrament than another. By a wonderful exchange, God makes us equal with the one man who has borne the heat of the day – Jesus Christ – clothing us with Him (Gal. 3:27)! The one work God requires is that you believe in the one He has sent (John 6:29).
Those who might compare and rely on great things they believe they are doing for God are hereby called to repentance and humbled to trust nothing but God’s grace in Christ! Those who think they have blown it – that their manner of life is not worthy of the gospel of Christ are hereby called to repentance and uplifted to trust nothing but God’s grace in Christ. His boundless forgiveness is for you! The master desire’s none to be idle! Even now His call rings out “come unto me.”
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? Thank God He is unfair. This is not mere generosity! This is renewing generosity – giving you a new start each day – turning you in daily repentance! This is pure Grace! In this gracious generosity the Father gave Him who is first - His beloved Son - the exact imprint of His nature – His Son whose word upholds the universe (Heb. 1:1-4) - His Son - to become last. Come down in our flesh He had nowhere to lay His head (Mt. 8:26) - He was of no reputation (Phil 2:7) – He was made to be our sin (2 Cor. 5) – He was a worm and not a man (Psalm 22:6) – He was a corpse (dead and buried). He who is first overall things was dead last – but not beyond the beautiful morning light of the blessed third day. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Now in His gracious generosity you lasts are made first – You have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You who were not a people are now the people of God (1 Pt. 2:10) – elect – chosen – the apple of God’s eye (Ps. 17:8) – saints God calls you! Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Beloved of God, you have every reason to rejoice in what God is doing with what belongs to Him! He gives it all to you! Gifted with faith in Him you are free to do what He calls you to: free to work in every task as serving the Lord – free to love and serve one another – free to pray for progress and joy in the faith – free to fully forgive even as you are fully forgiven – free even to see suffering for the sake of Christ not as an evil accident but as something God grants you.
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? When evening comes and the wages are paid you will rejoice eternally in the Masters generosity! His grace is profound! He makes you all equal - joining you to the one who has borne the burden of the Day of Judgment! Here is rest and security for your conscience! Here is certainty for your future! In Him your death is as precious to God as was St. Paul’s. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. You do not fully understand the gain to come for you! You cannot fully understand the gain to come for you – the increase – the reward - that awaits you up ahead just a bit! As the heavens are higher than the earth – so is this gain higher than all than you can know.
That’s why the master comes again on this day with His holy body for you to eat and His holy blood for you to drink. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim His death until He comes. On that glorious day the wages you will receive are due solely to the Master’s profound and gracious generosity! Even so – come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.
In peace let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
In thanksgiving that the pure grace of God in Christ Jesus has called us and given us free salvation we do not deserve, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
In petition that God would send forth laborers into His harvest field and sustain those He has sent preserving them in the pure doctrine of His saving Word that the Gospel may be preached in all the world, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For trust in times of struggle; for confidence like St. Paul even in prison, knowing that our Father grants us also to suffer for Christ; for faith that to live is Christ and to die is gain, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For this congregation, in thankfulness for university students and for those from other lands that come among us; for the ability to meet the needs that arise as we do the work God has given us to do; for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For the government and all who have been set into positions of leadership, that they may use the authority entrusted to them honorably and for the good of the people, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For those who suffer from hunger, homelessness, poverty, or unemployment, for those whose homes and lives are torn by wind or flood or earthquake, that God’s great mercy and love would preserve and relieve them, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For all the faithful, that the craving and desire for money and the things it accumulates does not rob them of contentment nor cause them to wander from the faith; that the Spirit would lead them to cheerful, generous giving from the bounty the Lord provides, to support the Church and to help those in need, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For those suffering painful or chronic illnesses, that God would grant bodily healing according to His will and send His Spirit to strengthen each hurting soul. For Russel and Clifford and Gabriel and Steve and Sherry and Darice and Teresa, and for those in their families who help provide compassion and care; let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For the recognition that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth; in petition that God would help us by true faith and a godly life to prepare for the world to come, doing the work He has given us to do while it is day before the night comes, when no one can work, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
In thanksgiving for those whose labor here is done, who have departed in the faith, for the saints in light that no one can number; in petition that when our last hour comes the Lord will support us by His power and receive us into His heavenly kingdom, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.