Sermon – October 4, 2020 – Pentecost 18

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David R. Clark  ~  Matthew 20:1-16  ~  October 4, 2020  ~  Pentecost 18


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.”


Dear friends in our Savior Jesus,

“Life isn’t fair.” How many times have you told your children that or been told that yourself? We repeat it so often is seems to be a core value of American life.

But as much as we agree this is true, deep down, don’t we really believe life should be fair? You can hear this underlying theme in many of the political races going on right now. What is in your heart when it doesn’t turn out the way you would like? Perhaps you have found yourself saying, “What did I do to deserve that?” Or, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Perhaps the problem is not in circumstances. Perhaps the problem is in us. Being a Christian means believing there is something better than “fair.”

That isn’t easy! Jesus’ disciples had their own ideas about fair which led him to tell them this parable.

An employer went down to the marketplace, the business section of town, to hire people to work for him for the day. He was paying the going rate, a denarius, and all that he wanted from them was an honest day’s work. When he saw the amount of work he had, he went back to the marketplace and hired even more men. He agreed to be fair with them. He hired additional people at 9:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m.

When 6:00 p.m. rolled around, his foreman lined the men up with those he had hired last being paid first and those he hired first being paid last. Much to their astonishment, he gave each of the men who had been hired at 5:00 p.m. and had only done a single hour’s work, a denarius. He did the same for all those who had worked less than a full day’s.

The men who had worked the full day saw this and expected that since all of these other guys had received a full day’s pay for less than a day’s work, they would probably receive more. But, in fact, he gave each of them the same pay. They grumbled about this. The landowner explained:  ‘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?’ (Matthew 20:13-15)

This parable is difficult to understand if we don’t look at its context. In the previous chapter we find two significant events which led Jesus to tell this parable. The first is a rich young man who came to him and wished to justify himself. Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:21-22) As they saw him go away sad, the disciples were confused. “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27) In effect, both were saying, “That isn’t fair.”

Sometimes people have that same problem today, too. It would be as if they said, “I was baptized, confirmed, and married here, but someone who has been a member for six months who repented of an outwardly sinful life has all the benefits I do.” That’s what the rich young man said and why Jesus told this parable for you and me.

That’s one example, but it shows that in our hearts, we still believe we are earning something or deserve something, and we aren’t quite getting what we have earned or deserved. Based on this parable, here are some thoughts to lead you to apply this parable to yourself.

It’s pretty obvious that the workers concern was the pay, but it was more than that. They worked longer but got the same pay. That’s what they thought was not fair. And that’s the first take home for all of us. You don’t want God to be fair with you. When we think that way, we only think of the good things we have done and the perceived lack of good things others have done. That’s where we get that feeling of entitlement. Brothers and sisters, God knows what you do and for how long you have done it. Let me say that again, God KNOWS what you do and how long you have done it. Do you really want him to “pay” you on that basis? Do you deserve a blessing or an extra blessing because you have been able to give offerings all your life, not just a couple of years? Or because of the way you raise your kids? Or because you serve? If so, you are probably overestimating how God looks at those offerings. You can apply that to every area of life. God’s blessing is not a wage that we earn or deserve. What we have earned or deserved is something far, far less.

And that brings us to the second take away. We need to stop talking about God being fair. God is not fair, he is gracious. It was not fair that he punished someone else for our gossip, our blasphemy, and our laziness. It was not fair that he punished a perfect person for our despising of the Word and Sacrament and despising of our marriage and confirmation vows. But that is what he did! Why? Because he loves you enough not to be fair with you. He loves you enough to be gracious with you. That grace, and only that grace, is why you and I can hold our heads up as children of God.

And perhaps that grace is the greatest take home. As God has been gracious with us, let us be gracious with others. And as we do, show that there is something better than fair for everyone. Amen.