Vicar Jordan Bence ~ Pentecost 16 ~ September 24, 2017 ~ Matthew 20:1-16
God Gives Generously!!!
1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8“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.’ 9“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
“Well that didn’t turn out the way I expected it.” These words may have left your mouth after watching a movie, a sporting event, maybe seeing or listening to a commercial, or any situation that shocked your expectations. Just when we think we have things figured out, our expectations are stunned. In our text for today, Jesus tells his disciples a parable. As we follow along we think we know where Jesus is going with the parable, but we are surprised with the reality that our expectations do not agree with the truth. Jesus was not only using this parable to teach his disciples many years ago, but also to teach us today. Jesus tells us the reaction the workers had as they were paid and reminds us that our hearts are not very different from the worker’s when it comes to receiving gifts from our God. We know God gives generously! Human expectations will bring frustration, but God’s divine standards will bring rejoicing.
As we follow Jesus and his disciples in our text for today they have just left Galilee and are now in the region of Judea. Jesus has been using this time to teach not only his disciples but those who have been following him. In chapter 19 we hear of Jesus’ conversation with the rich man concerning the kingdom of God. Jesus tells him that he must first leave everything before he can be saved. The man, loving his wealth more than his Savior, ran off to his possessions. After hearing this conversation Peter reminds Jesus that he and his fellow disciples, unlike the rich man, have left all their possessions to follow Jesus. Will there be anything left for them? Jesus responds to Peter’s question with this parable.
- Human expectations will bring frustration
“For the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.” This was quite a common practice during the first century. Landowners would of course have their regular workers, but there would be times they needed extra help. This was especially true when the harvest came. The harvest was not something landowners could predict. It would come suddenly and without warning. So when it came, the landowners would need all the help they could get. This explains the events of the parable as the vineyard owner continues to frantically hire more and more workers for his vineyard. It seemed as if he couldn’t hire workers fast enough. This may seem like a bizarre idea to us; one that is most likely no longer practiced, but there are many companies who do this still today. We would call these workers free-lance laborers. Believe it or not there are over 53 million free-lance laborers in the United States alone. That is over 30% of the U.S. work force that are free-lance.
Jesus continues, “He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” A denarius was the average rate of pay for a day’s work. This would have been a generous payment concerning that these marketplace laborers were unskilled laborers. Notice the fact that Jesus points out that the amount of pay was agreed upon before they started the work. The men agreed to work for a denarius.
But the landowner realized this was not enough help. He needed more men. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. ‘He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing? ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.” The first group that was hired was not nearly enough help to get the work done. The landowner needed more workers. He continues to go back at different hours of the day to hire more and more help. But notice there is something different during the hiring process of these men than the hiring of the first group. Unlike the first group, the landowner had not agreed to pay them a certain wage. He said he would pay them “what is fair.” These men started work at different times of the day and were not going to work a full day. The landowner said he would pay them what was fair but didn’t agree on a price. Now that these men have been hired and have worked their share, it’s time to get paid.
“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 to the first.” Notice how the landowner pays them; beginning with those who have worked the least and going up to the ones who have worked the longest. If the ones near the end of the line see the workers who only worked an hour receive a denarius, they will be waiting to receive much more. This goes along with human standards. According to human standards you’re paid for what you earn. If you work longer you get paid more. If you work harder you get paid more. Seems fair enough.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “What on earth does this story have to do with us?” We know that Jesus’ parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Jesus tells these parables to his disciples so that they may grow in wisdom and understanding. We, too, are to read these parables and grow in the understanding and wisdom of our perfect Savior. As we look at our parable today, we realize we have the same thought process that the workers had. Think about it. What if you showed up at work at the crack of dawn, worked an entire day and with an hour left in the shift your co-worker shows up. Would you expect to get paid the same as they do? Or how about this? You show up on time with a fellow co-worker, you work hard all day, but your co-worker sleeps the day away and wakes up to work the last hour of the shift. Would you expect to get paid the same? I think you know the answer.
We don’t only have this thought process at the work place, but also when it comes to the kingdom of God. Do we think that the workers in God’s kingdom deserve the same pay? Or do you expect to get more because of how long you have been here? Do you as a long-time member of Grace expect more than a life-long adulterer who has just become a Christian? Do you expect more because you have faithfully shown up Sunday after Sunday while the life-long addict sitting next to you has just begun to come to church? Do you expect to receive more because you were baptized as a child rather than the unbeliever who was baptized in their old age? Do you expect to receive more because you have confessed Jesus as your Savior your entire life rather than confessed him moments before your death like others have? When we begin to think like this we expect the gifts to be equal to the amount of time you have worked. The amount of time you have served should mean greater gifts than the others. Human expectations convince us we will receive greater rewards than others because of what we have done. They are frustrated when we realize we don’t. Human expectations tell us that it is only fair for us to receive more.
At times like these we forget what it would mean if God was fair with us. If God were to be fair with us, trust me, it would be a very different story. God demands perfection of us. Have you been perfect? God tells us what the fair punishment is for those who have not been perfect; eternal death and punishment in hell. We turned our back on God with our sinfulness, being fair would mean he turned his back on us forever. If God were fair with us, you and I would still be helpless and hopeless. We would go through our lives never knowing our Savior’s love for us. If God were fair with us things would be a whole lot different. That being said we should ask ourselves, “Do I want God to be fair with me?” Absolutely not. And thanks be to God that he has not been.
God gives generously! As we look at his giving from human standards we may be frustrated, but divine standards bring rejoicing.
- Divine standards will bring rejoicing!
Jesus continues with the parable and says, “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” Notice how the vineyard owner pays them; equally. Some of them have been there one hour some of them many more. It doesn’t matter at all to him. One denarius will do for everyone. We hear that the workers who bore the heat of the day were not too happy with this. Jesus responds to them with these words.
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Was it unfair that the vineyard owner paid them a denarius? Absolutely not. A denarius was more than generous pay for any unskilled laborer. The workers who had been there longer were envious of the owner’s generosity he showed to the others. They believed that if the owner gave the least of workers a denarius then they deserved so much more. But that’s not how it works. The vineyard owner was being generous to all of the workers. The fact that he gave even the first group a denarius was a generous wage. Do you think the workers who bore the brunt of the day would have been angry with receiving a denarius if the other workers had received far less? I don’t think so. Jesus points out in the parable that it wasn’t the pay they were mad at but the generosity the landowner showed to the others. They couldn’t stand the fact that they worked so much harder than the other workers but they all received the same pay.
The way Jesus ends the parable shows us how he feels about their jealousy. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Jesus introduced his parable with the same words in verse 30 of chapter 19. These words serve as a great summary of the principle that Jesus is teaching us and his disciples. Those who think they should be paid first will be treated last. Those who receive God’s gifts with a humble heart are amazed at God’s gracious gift.
We don’t want God to be fair with us. The fair payment we would receive is nothing any of us would enjoy. God hasn’t been fair with us. He has been incredibly generous! God is generous when he gives us any gifts at all! When we are reminded what God should have “paid” us we are amazed when we see what he lovingly gives us. Because God loves us so much, instead of giving us the fair payment of eternal death he gives eternal life through his Son. The “fair payment” of suffering and death you and I deserved was given to Jesus. We rejoice knowing that God’s generosity is not based on our own works but based on the actions of Christ. Therefore, when we see the life-long addict brought to faith, we don’t shake our head and act like he’s the only one who doesn’t deserve those gifts. None of us deserve those gifts! You and I don’t deserve to be called God’s children but are called such by the grace and love of our God. When we see God bless his kingdom with his generosity we do not grumble and complain as the workers did thinking they should be given more. When we see God continually bless his children with gifts we are overjoyed and humbled that he gives us anything at all. We are then reminded that there is nothing better than God’s gifts. What could possibly be better than a loving God giving his own life for you? What could be better than constant forgiveness of sins while we live on this earth? What could be better than eternal life for all his children? Absolutely nothing. God doesn’t give fairly, he gives generously!
As we humbly receive these gifts we do not do so with the intention of hording them all to ourselves. But we ask ourselves how we can share these gifts with others? When we spread the gospel message and the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of unbelievers they are introduced to God’s generosity. God wants to generously give to everyone! If someone does not know who God is, they cannot help to receive his gifts. As we receive these gifts God allows us to show our thanks by sharing them with others.
As we read through this parable, things don’t go as we would expect them to and things don’t go the way the workers expected them to either. But Jesus reminds us that it is our greatest joy that things don’t go the way we would expect them. Our human expectations fall far short of God’s grace. If you and I were given God’s gifts based on our own works or merits we would not be pleased. But God in his grace gives us gifts based on his divine standards which are far better than our own. His gifts don’t rely on us or our actions, but solely on the works of Jesus Christ. We are humbled as God showers his blessings on us when he owed us nothing at all. Therefore, with joy we want to share these gifts with others. Brothers and sisters, never forget that God gives generously. Human expectations will bring frustration, but God’s divine standards will bring rejoicing. Amen.