Pentecost 20 October 18, 2020


Rejoice in God’s In-Equality

Matthew 20:1-16

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 55:6-9
Philippians 1:18b-27


39, 374, 373:1,5-7, 644

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +

Dear fellow redeemed, fellow sinners made saints by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ,

But it’s not fair!” When is the last time you heard those words? When are the last time you thought those words? It’s something we learn early on in life. If little Johnny gets a treat then I should too. If Samantha gets to stay up late, then I should too. We Americans are big fans of fairness and equality. But where does this desire for fairness come from? Is it a desire that God gives us? Is it a fruit of the Spirit? Or is it from our sinful flesh? I think you know the answer to that.

Rather than grumbling at unfairness, you are invited this morning to rejoice at the in-equality of God. Jesus speaks of this gracious inequality in the Kingdom of God, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Hear, now, the Word of God, recorded in Matthew twenty, verses one through sixteen:

[Jesus said:] “The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now 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 to 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.”

This is the Word of God, given and preserved for your hearing today by God the Holy Spirit. Even so, let us pray God that He would use the truth of His Word to set us apart for His holy purposes as we pray, “O Lord, sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen.

Before we get into this parable of Jesus, we first need to know what prompted it. Jesus has just spoken with the rich young ruler. Remember the one? This is the one that said he had kept all of God’s commandments from his youth. Jesus informed him that he lacked one thing. He said, If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. Jesus showed this young man his sin. This rich young man loved his money, more than he loved God. In other words, he hadn’t even kept the First Commandment.

This then prompted Peter to say, See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have? What shall we have… On the one hand, this seems to be a genuinely innocent question that Peter asked. He and the other disciples left their homes, their fishing jobs, and their extended families to follow Jesus. “What shall we have?” Peter asks.

But at the same time it is a very dangerous question for our sinful flesh to get a hold of. My sinful flesh always wants to pat itself on the back. My sinful flesh always wants to point out what I have done, how much I have labored for the Lord, how much I have to put up with, and then ask Peter’s question, “Now what do I get?

Knowing the background and Peter’s question of “what do I get for leaving all and following You,” let’s return to our parable. Jesus tells of a landowner who had work that needed to be done in his vineyard. So, first thing in the morning, he goes out to hire some day-laborers. The landowner and the workers negotiate a contract and come to terms. They agree that at the end of the day he will pay them a denarius for their work. A denarius would have been the average wage for a day’s work. So let’s say it was a $100 bill the owner agreed to give these workers at the end of the day. Having agreed to terms, the new hires get to work.

As the day goes on, the landowner is surprised to find people just standing around the marketplace, not doing anything. So at the third hour, or 9:00 in the morning, the landowner hires these workers promises to pay them “WHAT IS RIGHT” at the end of the day. The landowner does the same at Noon and again at 3:00 p.m. Finally, at 5:00, just one hour before quitting time, the landowner finds more workers, and puts them to work. Again, he promises to pay them “WHAT IS RIGHT.”

At 6:00, the whistle blows. It’s quitting time and it’s payday. The landowner tells his steward to pay the workers, but does something we wouldn’t expect. He first pays the workers who had only spent an hour in his vineyard working for him. And what does he pay them? A denarius. The steward hands them over a $100 for their one hour of work.

After paying the other workers, the early-hires come to collect their wages. Now, if that was you, what would you have expected to receive from the landowner? If those last hired received $100 for an hour of work, those who worked hard for 10 times as long, should get 10 times as much. IT’S ONLY FAIR.

Yet, these workers received from the landowner a denarius, the same $100, and they grumbled against the landowner. They grumbled because they didn’t think it was fair. These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Those hired first had to work during the heat of the noonday sun. They did the greatest amount of work. They bore the burden of the work. Yet, they received the exact same pay as the hires who only worked for one hour. “It’s not fair!” If this were 2020, these day-laborers would have formed protests against the business and trashed them on social media because they thought they deserved more.

The landowner reminds them, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? At the outset of things, this is what they had mutually agreed on. The landowner was good to his word. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?

So what heavenly truth is Jesus trying to teach us with this earthly story? God is the landowner who searches out and calls workers into His kingdom. Some He searches out and calls early on. You can think of Peter, James, and John. Or in this 60thyear of the CLC and of Berea, we think of the founding members of this congregation and our church body who struggled against doctrinal debates and slim offerings. Others, the Lord searches out and calls only a short time before their death. We can think of the convicted criminal who was crucified next to Jesus. Yet in his dying hours he repented of his sins, believed on Jesus as His Lord, Savior, and King.

What did all these believers in Christ receive, regardless of whether they had labored for the Lord their whole life or only during the last hour of their life? Jesus told the repentant thief next to Him, Today you will be with Me in paradise. What does Jesus promise the life-long believers upon death? Today you will be with Me in paradise. From last to first, the promise is the same, For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ …for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him (Romans 10:11-12).

Does this not seem fair to you? Well then rejoice! Rejoice at God’s in-equality, rather than grumbling about it. Rejoice that our entrance into heaven is not based on how long or how hard we labored in God’s kingdom. If heaven was based on the length of our laboring, none of us would be able to work hard enough or long enough to gain access.

Rejoice, because Jesus is the only one who labored faithfully in the owner’s vineyard. Jesus was the one who bore the burden of all our sins and did all the work to remove every last one of them. Isaiah writes the words of Jesus, I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes (Isaiah 63:3). Jesus has borne the heat of God’s wrath against sin as He suffered on the cross. Rejoice with the psalmist, that God does not keep a record, or tally, of our sins. If He did, who could stand? Rejoice that because of Jesus’ work, from last to first, God remembers our sins no more.

This is grace. And grace is not fair. We do not get what we deserve—and praise God for that! Instead, Jesus got what we deserved and we get what Jesus earned. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

In our parable, the early hires grumbled at the graciousness of the landowner. The landowner then says these chilling words, Take what is yours and go your way… This sounds very similar to what the Judge will say on the last day to the unbelievers, “Depart from Me…” At the end of the day, they showed the true colors of their heart. Though the landowner was gracious in searching them out early on and bringing them into his vineyard, they grumbled at his in-equality. Many are called, but few are chosen. Both the calling and the choosing are based on the goodness of God. But some, in the hardness of their heart, grumble at God’s goodness, thinking they deserve more for what they have done.

On Judgment Day, how will you feel as drug addicts, prostitutes, and child murderers who in the final hours of their life repented of their wickedness and believed on Jesus for salvation, receive the same invitation you receive, you who have been laboring for the Lord all these years of your life. As He says to both them and you, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34)? Will you grumble? Or, knowing your own sin and your own unworthiness, and how God sought you out and found you, will you rejoice at the in-equality of God? Will you rejoice at His goodness and graciousness in paying ANY sinner, the wages of salvation that Jesus earned? Rejoice, dear redeemed sinners, at the in-equality of God, FOR THIS IN-EQUALITY IS HIS GRACE and it is your salvation! Praise be to our most gracious God! Amen.

—Pastor Nathan Pfeiffer

Berea Ev. Lutheran Church
Inver Grove Heights, MN

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