Friday, September 19, 2014

Proper 20

Proper 20
Matthew 20:1-16

Lord God, heavenly Father, since we cannot stand before You relying on anything we have done, help us trust in Your abiding grace and live according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

There is a cast system in our American culture. In five months, our 8th graders will walk into Bellmont, Heritage and AC High Schools for the first time. They arrive for freshman orientation.  And already it will be predetermined those who will succeed. And those who will fail. There are those who will succeed in athletics and academics. There will be those who won’t.  And there will be some, who, simply by hard work and sheer determination will succeed. And we will applaud their efforts.

Some get that lucky break that sets their career on a trajectory that only goes up. For others, the break does not come.    Some live a life of privilege. Others not. Some make it because they out work everyone else.  God's economy is different.

When Jesus repeats Himself pay attention.  He never wastes words. He’s not taking up dead air space. He’s speaking an intense and powerful truth. Never shallow. Always sincere.  Jesus tells us “Many who are first will be last and the last first.” He speaks these words with respect to Peter’s response.

Pious Peter. He speaks for Himself. He speaks for the twelve. He speaks for you. Peter reminds the Lord what he has done. He has sacrificed   He’s gone without.  He’s given up, forgone and forfeited many things for Jesus’ sake. “See we have left everything and followed you Jesus. What then will we have?”1 

Jesus’ parable is a reaction to Peter's question. "We’ve given up everything." “What's in it for us?” he asks. Jesus tells this parable because mercy is being challenged.

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard reminds us that the Father’s generosity is equal to all. When payment time came for the laborers in the vineyard, it was learned that each was to receive equal pay regardless of hours worked. The reward is the same in the kingdom.  Whether you enter early or late the payment is the same. The thief on the cross receives the same reward as the faithful Christian who lives eighty plus years. Who are you to spurn God’s mercy?

What is your reaction to God's kindness?

Some Grumble — vv. 8-15 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'”

The housemaster is remembered for what he does. He hires workers. They don't apply.  These workers - they are of the same voice.  They all agree to work for a Denarius a day. It was a fair wage.  These workers are standing idle, doing nothing. Jesus uses the Greek word “argon” which means “lazy” or “inactive”. It’s the same word for the chemical element, which undergoes almost no chemical reactions. Literally, the gas does nothing.  These workers are hired at the 3rd hour, around 9am

The householder continues. “I will pay whatever is right.” According to His goodness. According to His mercy, Christ redeemed you. This is the root of justification. To work in the vineyard is to give meaning to your life.

The householder. He did the same at the 6th and 9th hour. At noon and at 3pm. He hires more workers.

“Why stand the whole day idle?”  This is the first time he speaks. Those first hired get what they bargained for the last receive grace!

They answer, “No one would have us.” These are the tax collectors and sinners. The rejects of this world.  These are the ones who the Master paid first although they worked less.  They didn't barging for it. They receive mercy. As Jesus reminds the religious elite, “Most certainly I tell you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you!”2  

The Lord of the vineyard speaks. “Now pay them starting with those hired last.” The last-minute workers receive a Denarius. These were the ones no one else wanted.  There is a sense of entitlement. Those hired first, they expected more. They were looking for justice instead of mercy.

“You make them equal to us,” they argue. We sweated, they didn't... Yet God is no respecter of persons.

The householder answered one of them, “friend...Same address as Judas...I did not injure you...take what is yours and go… It is My will to do as I wish. Generosity is the Master’s grumble against the King is to speak against the king's says give me what I deserve. 

The Master’s final word is critical. There is no is permissible for Me to do as I wish with what is Mine...or is your eye evil because I am good?
Some grumble. Then there are some who are grateful.

 The Father lives up to his promise to pay —Isn’t it wonderful that even those of us who worked only one hour also receive a Denarius. There is a lesson to be learned here. The work itself is already a reward in and of itself! Just to be a Christian is a privilege. It is not a wearisome duty but a happy service, no matter how long God allows us to serve. There is no richer, fuller life than that of a disciple of Christ. The wage question in the kingdom of God need not trouble us. In the kingdom, there is no unemployment, and the wage level is consistently high.

The Father has a right to do what He pleases with his own —How does God justify the apparent injustice in the payment of wages? God claims He is God, and can do what he pleases with his own. This, too, is different for today’s employer. He cannot pay what he wants or hire those he wants to work for him. Laws limit him. God deals differently from the world.

The Father is generous to all —His grace.  His payment is not determined by wages or hours worked. God is so generous that He gives the denarius of grace (salvation) to everyone regardless of length of service or quantity of work performed. He goes beyond justice to give His peace to all who come, whenever they come.

Jesus responds to Peter, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, [a] when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold[b] and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”3

The Christian faith is not The Kentucky Derby. There is no Win, Place or Show for those who out prayed, out witnessed, or out tithed the others. Grace is not a performance-based trophy but a God-given gift. The last do indeed receive a first-place prize. And the first receive a last-place prize.  And both prizes are the same: a gold crown placed upon their heads by the One who, for the joy set before Him, ran the race ahead of us all to win for us a trophy of grace delivered in love. 4
1. Matthew 19: 27
2. Matthew 21:31
3.Matthew 19:28-30
4. Facebook post by Chad Bird 17 September 2014

Words – 1,290
Passive Sentences -4%
Readability – 80.1%
Reading Level -4.6

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