16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Matthew chapter 20.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Whoa whoa WHOA. Time out! Back up the truck, Alice. Did we just hear that parable right? Matthew 20:1-16 is frequently called the “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard,” and Jesus tells this Parable because the disciples were concerned in chapter 19 that their discipleship wouldn’t mean anything. You think last week’s lesson and “70 x 7” was counter –cultural? Let’s talk about counter-cultural! Check this out.
The master of the vineyard needs some workers. That’s nothing unusual. Grapes were a very important crop in ancient Israel and the harvest had come. So the master set out at 6 AM to find workers agreeing to pay them a denarius for a day’s work…a more than fair wage. Then he found more at 9 AM, sent them out to work, even more at Noon, and even more workers were sent out at 3 PM. At 5 PM, more workers were sent out for the final hour of work. That means you have some workers who worked a 12 hour day in the hot sun, and some who worked an hour as the day cooled to evening. When it came time for the foreman to pay the workers, the master was present, which is unusual.
But what is even more unusual is that everyone got paid the same! To use modern amounts, those who started first expected a full days wage…say $100. Those who were hired last were paid first and since they only worked 1 hour, they expected to get roughly $9. Or, those who worked all day expected that they would get much more. Instead, everyone gets paid the same. Of course, those hired first complained that they worked much longer than those hired last, but everyone got paid an equal amount. That’s not fair! The master’s response? “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?” (Matthew 20:13-15 ESV).
Sure, parables are earthly stories with higher, spiritual meanings, but c’mon! They all got the same! Did you hear that? They all got the same! It’s not fair! It goes against everything we hold dear; it goes against all our notions of what is right and fair. One of the first rules of economics is that people get what’s coming to them. If you have worked harder, longer, and more faithfully than others, you get more. Conversely, if you do less, you should not expect more. Our economic system is based on a simple premise: the more you do, the more you get. That’s the way it “works,” right? This creates a psychological itch to be scratched…it’s not “fair.”
“Guys who worked 1 hour getting paid the same as those who work 12 hours? It’s just not fair,” we cry! We labor long and hard, and does Jesus mean that it all adds up to nothing? That’s what the disciples thought in Matthew 19. We reckon that it should count for something, if not here and now then in the grand scheme of things at the end of days when the Master returns. But did you hear what the Master said? “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me?”
Oh. Now, that’s not good. It is a terrifying thought…God does what he wants with what is his! How do I know that? Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;” Psalm 50:10-11 – “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine;” Romans 14:8 – “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” I think you get the idea. This is my Father’s world. He created it, He owns it, He maintains it, He does what he wants because it’s all His. Don’t ever forget that not even for one minute.
Indeed, God does what he wants with what is his, and what he wants above all else is to be generous! This parable teaches us not about “fairness,” whatever that is, but it’s about God’s great generosity! God is wonderfully unfair! God does what he wants instead of treating us as we deserve! Even our best work is soiled with sin. We’ve been proud of ourselves and resented others or refused to forgive. The wages of sin is death—this is the payment we deserve – and we all know this. But, above all else God is generous in His “unfairness!”
God’s ways are not our ways (Is 55:8), and that’s good! He will freely pardon (Is 55:7). In Christ, God shows his utter generosity. In our ways and thoughts we are thoroughly convinced that we deserve more. But from God’s perspective, Jesus didn’t deserve what happened to Him either. But again, God is wonderfully unfair. His life, His sacrifice, His death, His resurrection mean life and hope for all of us.
God in Christ is generosity incarnate and wonderfully unfair! It’s easy to see life as unfair. Decades of marriage suddenly ends in divorce. Children raised in respectful and loving homes shake off all the values you lovingly taught and nurtured and then they never call or contact you. You turn on the TV or read the news and see “not fair.” We are growing weary of the disruption caused by Coronavirus. We are tired of the unrest and disrespect and lawlessness. We are tired of the political bickering while the nation crumbles and erodes around us. We want a return to normal. We want life to be fair. You want fair? They have a nice one coming up in March 2021 at the Roberts Arena on Fruitville. You can eat a corndog and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl and see a pig and stuff. But fair in the world? Good luck with that. No one ever said life would be fair. More often than not, it isn’t.
Was God “not fair” to you this week? Whose definition of “fair” are you using? He doesn’t operate according to our standards of what’s right and fair. Instead, he does what he wants with what is his! And what he wants above all else is to be generous! We live in his generous love and forgiveness and grace, in Christ, now and always because God is wonderfully unfair!