Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Seputagesima – January 28, 2018
Text: St. Matthew 20:1-16
It’s true that all of the parables Jesus tells teach about the Kingdom of Heaven and how it differs from our earthly life. While it uses everyday elements, it teaches divine wisdom about God Himself and His workings among His faithful.
This parable is very apropos among people who are greedy for gain. The ringleader from the musical Oliver was right when he said, “In this life, one thing counts: in the bank large amounts.”
The problem with this parable isn’t that the Master is unjust. He agrees with the first for a denarius a day, and then he promises the rest “whatever is right” (v. 4) At the end of the day, those promised a denarius do in fact have a denarius in their hand, and those who worked for shorter happen to have the same.
By that, the Master shows how very good He is. He goes out to find laborers for His vineyard. He goes out at the beginning of the day, but also at the third, the sixth, and the ninth hour (9am, noon, and 3pm to us). Each group is more desperate than the last. If they don’t get hired, these men will be forced to go home empty-handed to their families. Finally, even at the 11th hour, the Master finds some who have been waiting to be hired, and He gives them a job too.
Then it’s pay-out time, and the absolutely needy 11th-hour hires receive the means to support their household. And so do those who have been working since the 9th, the 6th, the 3rd, and the 1st hour. The Master has had compassion on all, for if He had not come to them, they would have been left idle and empty-handed.
What is translated, “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” if you read the footnote on verse 15, it gives the underlying explanation: “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” The Master’s goodness actually exposes the evil of our hearts.
In His Word, God promises us forgiveness of sins, resurrection, and eternal life. But with these, we are not satisfied. Like the day laborer who thinks his labor is worth more than others, we think God owes us for the work we’ve done in his name: the time spent at church, the sufferings we’ve had to endure, the insults we’ve borne, the people we’ve brought to know Him. We want those things to be extra credit, and God owes it to us.
Repent. What He gives is enough. His grace is sufficient. It is more than what you deserve; it’s better.
He goes out seeking laborers, meaning that He does indeed call us to work. The grace of God is not the same as a handout. He could have gone out and just handed out denarii to the idlers, but He doesn’t. He gives them work to do, each according to what He has assigned them. He has given you work to do—as husbands, wives, or widows; as children, employers or employees. Some are hearers of the Word while others are called to shepherd. Citizens or rulers, each in the kingdom does the work which the Master has assigned.
But just as we should not shun the work He gives us to do, e must not become proud of it either and covetous for more rewards. We must not become judges of our fellow laborers, because that comes from the evil heart which accuses God of holding out. Instead, all of us, as fellow recipients of the Master’s compassion, we labor side by side and awaiting the end of the day. At that time, we will receive not what we have earned, but what He bestows out of His infinite grace and mercy—even eternal life. Amen.