September 18, 2011
TEXT: Matthew 20:1-16/Isaiah 55:6-9/Phil. 1:12-14, 19-30
GOD’S WORK ETHIC – GENEROUS AND GRACIOUS – AS HE SO CHOOSES!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Dear hearers of the Word made flesh:


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 to one of them, ‘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?  So the last will be first, and the first last.”

In the Greek Jesus’ question “do you begrudge my generosity?” literally reads, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” 

September 18, 2011
TEXT: Matthew 20:1-16/Isaiah 55:6-9/Phil. 1:12-14, 19-30
GOD’S WORK ETHIC – GENEROUS AND GRACIOUS – AS HE SO CHOOSES!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Dear hearers of the Word made flesh:


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 to one of them, ‘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?  So the last will be first, and the first last.”


In the Greek Jesus’ question “do you begrudge my generosity?” literally reads, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”  The approach the master of this house took with his day laborers would surely cause an evil eye in the workplaces of this world - and havoc. Bankruptcy comes to mind!  Dissatisfied and angry co-workers come to mind!  Picketing and law suits come to mind. In the university setting such an approach would surely lead to loss of incentive and 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 teaching about the kingdom of heaven not the kingdom of this world!  Concerning God’s ways in His kingdom, Isaiah said it well – 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. The disciples had just questioned what reward they would receive in the kingdom (Matt 19:27-30). The term Jesus used for “laborers” is the same term He used when He said, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to throw out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38). And as those sent out proclaim the kingdom, the laborer deserves his food (Matt 10:10)


In part, Jesus is taking aim at the apostles who laid the foundation for the church. They were sinfully prone to jockey for position as called workers in the kingdom (Matt 20:20-28). While Jesus kept predicting His crucifixion and resurrection, they kept posturing for first place. By way of this parable Jesus teaches them to remember that their call into His ministry is solely a gift of God’s grace. The men who worked 12 hours and bore the heat of the day had nothing over on the men who worked only one hour. The one attribute these workers had in common was being idle or unoccupied in the kingdom until God chose them. James and John had no right to expect positions of honor over Matthew, the hated tax collector and a latecomer 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.


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. Their complaint was that God had been too generous with those who came later. Notice that it was the Owner who set the order of payment in the parable. He said to his foreman “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.”  Had he started with the workers hired first who had agreed on wages, they would have taken their living wage and departed happy. But the Owner purposely let those who worked all day see the one-hour laborers receive the full wage then the 3 and 6 and 9 hour workers receive all the same.


“Equal pay for equal work” is a centuries old understanding of justice. By that standard, this method is not fair!  The Owner’s work ethic is both generous and gracious and that is the matter of offense!  That which calls forth grumbling - is not that anyone is underpaid but rather seen as overpaid in comparison.


What do you think of God’s work ethic?  The firsts became lasts not because they failed to do good works. Jesus does not deny that they bore the burden and the scorching heat of the day. Rather, the firsts became lasts because they make comparisons in heavenly matters. Comparative Christianity is always deadly to the one comparing – whether in your family, in this congregation, or in the church at large!  The firsts became lasts because they convinced themselves that they had been wronged by God. They thought His generosity to others was unfair to them. They wanted a pay scale in their control – making judgments about the worth of others. So do we!  Although we cannot stand before God relying on anything we have done, we presume to make others stand before us on some scale we invent!  Comparative Christianity is always deadly!


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 also pastors today are tempted by sideway glances of envy and dissatisfaction!  Seminary students and university students are not insulated from finding fault with God because of His generosity to others. After all I’m the brilliant one with real dedication. Yet look at the recognition and breaks some of the others receive. Class envy just bubbles up!


The faithful wife and mother who has labored for decades in faithful commitment to husband and children has a personal record in Christ identical to the mother who shirked responsibilities for years but in whom God’s Word worked repentance later in life. The Christian father who took heat for decades speaking God’s truth in love receives the identical wage as the culturally-compromising man in whom God’s Word worked 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).


What do you think of God’s work ethic?  It is surely generous and gracious!  If you are a businessman or businesswoman – do not use this parable as a guide for your business – this is not how things operate in the world. Jesus clearly said the kingdom of heaven is like (this) master…In the deepest sense the Master uses a gift ethic based upon the work of the man telling this parable.


Dear Christians, Jesus here is describing 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 and it is not the Master but the foreman who makes the trip to the corner where day laborers gather. Any Owner and His foreman would know how many workers are needed for the day. They wouldn’t 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.


Jesus is here describing His own ministry!  He comes to us where we live and loves us where we are!  He comes inviting sinners into His kingdom throughout their lives. Some He brings in the first hour (think of John the Baptizer) – some he brings in the last hour (think of the thief dying next to Him). He works on the principle of grace by which we sinners get what we do not deserve. In Christ God has moved 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!)


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!  Those who think they have done great things for God are hereby humbled to trust nothing but God’s grace in Christ!  Those who think they have blown it – that they are too late to work in the kingdom are hereby uplifted to trust nothing but God’s grace in Christ.


Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity? This Master, the Owner is the one who prepared the Vineyard by His own work!  Because the Son brings the kingdom of heaven to earth in His flesh, because He secured peace with God for us by the blood of His cross, because He rose in new life, He now calls us to a place of security and eternal life in His vineyard. He gathers sinners to be His saints. He desires all who stand idle outside to enter into His kingdom. He includes you in His kingdom not for His sake, but for your sake! 


Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity? Beloved, you have every reason to rejoice in what God had done with what belongs to Him! He has given it all to you and continues to do so!  The one work He requires is that you believe in the one He has sent (John 6:29). Gifted with faith in Him you are free to do the tasks He has given you to do - and yes there is work to do in His kingdom. Husbands and wives are free to go about the work of loving and serving each other. Parents are set free to care for their children while children are set free to obey and honor their parents. Employees are set free to do their best on the job. Employers are set free to make their best efforts for their employees. All are set free to hear the Word, to confess the faith to others, to support the church with tithes and talents. All are set free to confess the deep corruption of their own heart. All are set free to forgive fully from their forgiven heart!


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! He has made you equal with the one who has borne the burden of the Day of Judgment! 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 – he said. That is also your status day by day until evening comes and the wages are paid – due solely to the Master’s generosity! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.


Prayer of the Church
P Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.


A For repentance, that we may be granted a right understanding of God’s law and that it would convict us of our sin and our need for forgiveness in Christ Jesus, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For grateful lives, that whether we were called to faith at the first hour or the eleventh hour, our hearts and mouths would be filled with praise and amazement that the grace of Jesus Christ has given us salvation we do not deserve, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For a spirit of caring, that the Holy Spirit would grant us a love like the love Jesus has for us, a love that is willing to show mercy to our neighbors even when it is inconvenient or dangerous or might cost us our lives, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For the mission of the Church, that by the Holy Spirit we may proclaim the good news of salvation, and for opportunities to confess the faith to those from other lands, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For trust in times of struggle, that we may be given a confident faith like Paul had when he was in prison, knowing that our Father is using our troubles for the good of the Gospel, and for the certainty of salvation, that we, with Paul, would believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For spiritual wisdom, that when we do not comprehend God’s works, the Holy Spirit would teach us to believe that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A In thanksgiving for God’s gift of marriage, especially for Jeff and Nicole on their anniversary. In petition that God would bless all marriage among us through every joy and sorrow shared, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For everyone in civil authority, that we may be granted good government, faithful leaders, and peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For everyone in need, for Krisi and her unborn child, for Marlowe, Janet, Irv, Helen, and Sandy, that they and all who are in need would be granted healing from their diseases, comfort in their mourning, relief from their troubles, and faith in Jesus Christ, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For our daily needs, that our land would be blessed with good weather and fruitful crops, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For the youngest members of God’s kingdom, that the Lord would give each parent patience and wisdom to nurture their children, that He would bless those who teach and those who learn in our Sunday School and Bible classes, and that even when they face temptations and challenges, He would keep our children faithful to Him all their lives, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

A For all who come to the Lord’s Table, that with gratefulness as God’s people we may receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and the renewing of our lives, let us pray to the Lord,
C Lord, have mercy.

P Graciously receive our prayers, O Lord, deliver and preserve us, for to You alone we give all glory, honor, and worship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
C 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