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Matt. 20.1 thru 16 VanvelzerParable

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Michael Van Velzer

Matthew 20:1-16

Faith Healing or Healing Faith?

Pentecost 18

Story Interrupted

Focus: The grace of God is greater than any reward.

Function: That the hearer accept the grace of God for his or her life.

“All in a day’s work.” We have all used this common expression. In this parable, we see two different perspectives of work done on a given day in a vineyard long ago.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborer for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.”

Imagine being one of the workers on that day. You got up early that morning to get to the market place.  Here workers would gather and people willing to pay for work would go to this place, seek the best-qualified workers they could find. A good wage for a days work is a denarius. Sometimes, men are stuck working for less, especially if they are not fully fit, or too old or too young.

This is a good day, because a man who has a lot of work that needs to be done in his vineyard comes in and hires everybody. When you get to as vineyard, you can see that there is a lot of work to be done. Stones need to be moved and sorted by size. Vines need trimming.  There are trenches to be dug.       

Like most vineyards around here, this one is on a hillside.  Rocks and stones are abundant in this soil, but they are also useful.  Rocks make terraces to increase the tillable area of the hillside. Stones make fences.  There are walls to be built. The guard tower needs repairs if it is to be of any use during the next harvest. So, today is your lucky day.  There is plenty of work for the day, and the pay is good.

In fact, wee need more men.  There are too many stones, and it looks like it has been some time since any serious work and been done. There goes the owner of the vineyard, back to town at the third hour, which our clocks would be about 9:00 AM.

“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. “

Now you notice the owner returning with much needed help. These men must have been from outlying areas.  It may have taken them a little longer to get to the village square to the marketplace. But you’re glad to see them because there’s so much work to be done. Before long, everybody is bustling around, picking up and sorting stones. Others are tilling the soil; others are rearranging the vines and trimming them so that they hang down the terraces in a way that makes the best use of the sunshine and scarce water. You’re probably not too concerned at this point about what these men would be paid for their work. In a sense of fairness would indicate that you would get a little bit more money than they, but mostly it’s just good to be working for a fair wage. The owner of the vineyard seems like a fair man. There is still a lot of work to be done and it is too bad we can’t have a few more people a few more workers here to get it done.

Wait a minute, isn’t that the landowner? Where is he going? There is work to be done, and he is heading off to town. It must be nice to be the boss. It is the middle of the day now and it sure is hot. But, that’s what working in a vineyard is all about. You can’t have grapes without a little sunshine. Besides, in a few hours it’ll be cool enough, and you’ll be on your way home again with a whole denarius in your pocket for your day’s work.

“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 until all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.”

Well, look here, you say.  I guess the landowner found some more workers. Here it is halfway through the day, and we have workers still trickling in. Some of these guys don’t look too good. A couple of them look a little old to be working this hard in this heat. A  couple guys look to be too young and not strong enough to lift some of these rocks in the heat of the day. There is even a guy with a slight. Seems likely these guys just aren’t in good enough shape to be hired for the real work around town. I guess the landowner is so desperate that he would hire men everybody rejected. One thing for sure, though. These guys will work a lot cheaper than me and my buddies will, that’s for sure. Besides, we’ve been here all day.

“And when the 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. And 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 ago. 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.”

Hey, wait a minute. What’s going on? These guys are only been here an hour, some of them.  They’re getting the same pay that we got. We got up early.  We got to town early.  We were hired first.  When been here all day! It’s been hot! I don’t get it, these guys only been here an, when it was already cooling off, and they’re getting the same pay the rest of us are getting. This isn’t fair!

Now, what’s going on here? My guess is that all of us can think of times when we felt like we worked hard but for under-appreciated. I can remember a time when I worked as a studio musician. I’d show up for recording session to be paid incredible sum of $16.00 an hour. (This when the minimum wage was about a dollar fifty. Oh, by the way, gas was only 20 cents a gallon.). I was there to put some music down. Without my talent and the talent of the other singers, there would be no recording session. But here’s what always got me: the recording session required use of a lot of electrical equipment. The sound technicians who set up and took down this equipment made $25.00 an hour. I never could get that. They wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for guys like me. Yet, they got paid more than I did.

But, really, didn’t we all get paid fairly? When I took the gig, the recording session, I knew what I was getting paid. I’m sure the sound technicians also knew what they were getting paid. We were all paid what we were promised.

In the case of the workers in the vineyard, it seems like the ones who started work early in the morning have a pretty good case. After all, they should be based on how much you work. They worked all day. They should get paid more than the guys who came in at the eleventh hour, which would be about 5:00 PM on our clocks.

Now, clearly, the landowner is God. Jesus says as much at the beginning when He says, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a vineyard. So, God would be the owner of the vineyard. In Jesus’ day, people would have no difficulty seeing the vineyard as a metaphor for Israel. Who are the workers? Well, in Jesus day, you might say the “early workers” were the scribes and Pharisees, and the “late workers” were Jesus’ disciples.

What wage do we deserve in our work of life? Paul tells us we all sinners and that the wage of sin is death. Thank God He doesn’t give us the wage we earn! Thank God He doesn’t give us the wage we deserve! Thank God He pays us according to His Grace.

In the vineyard, everybody got what he was promised. The text explicitly states the “early workers” were paid a fair wage. When the owner of the vineyard hired workers later in the day, he told them he would pay them whatever is right. Certainly what he paid everyone was at least fair, even generous. Generous to the point of not making any sense.  Generous to the point of grace. And that’s what this parable is about. Grace.

Grace doesn’t make sense. That’s why the “early workers” don’t get it. Their sense of “fairness” clouded their ability to understand Grace. How important is it to understand this? Grace is an essential quality of God.

And grace doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that God would love us so much, be so intent on pursuing us, that He would come to earth to seek us out in our own human form.

What kind of sense does baptism make? Water? Words? It doesn’t make sense that He would join himself to us in our baptism. It doesn’t make sense; He doesn’t make sense.

 It doesn’t make sense He would live the perfect life on our behalf. It doesn’t make sense that He would then give us all the credit for His perfect life, taking no credit for himself. It doesn’t make sense that He takes all of our Sin, the sin of everyone who has ever lived, everyone who ever will live, He takes on all of that horrible sin upon himself.  That doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t make sense that He would stand silent before his accusers, allow himself to be tortured for us. It doesn’t make sense that He would allow himself to be nailed to a cross, suffering incredible pain all because of us. It doesn’t make sense that He would go to hell for us.  It doesn’t make sense that He would come back from hell to us and even now prepares His kingdom for our benefit. His creation, his kingdom, he prepares for our benefit. You see none of this makes sense. None of this makes sense, without grace.

Grace that’s been with us since the beginning. The only thing that makes sense is grace through faith. The only thing that makes sense of this parable and our lives is grace through faith. Faith in Christ Jesus who did all those things for us that don’t make any sense.

Now let me share with you one more thing that doesn’t make sense. Remember the workers who came to the vineyard at the ninth and the eleventh hour? Remember how some of them had been rejected because they were too old? God our father, through Jesus Christ, extends invites all to work in the vineyard of His Kingdom. I’m one of those workers. It doesn’t make sense that I’m here. In November of 1999, I was in Florida working for an insurance company in the aftermath of a major hurricane. As was my custom when I traveled, I sought out the church to attend on my one day off each week, which was Sunday. There’s something Biblical about going to church after working six days. One day after church on hung around to have a word with the Lutheran pastor. He expressed gratitude that I was here helping out so many of his parishioners. I said I was happy to do so, and by the way was being very well paid to do so. I shared with him that many years ago, was in confirmation, I believed that God called to the holy ministry. I expressed regret that I had not listened to God’s call, and said I thought it was probably too late for me to work in the Lord’s vineyard. The pastor told me that one could never tell, God will work His will through all of us. Little did I know at that time the Lord would enable me to answer his call to work in his vineyard at this late hour my life. It’s just one more thing that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense without grace.

And now my friends I ask you to consider whether your life makes sense without God’s grace. See your life in terms of God’s grace, and see if more of your life doesn’t make sense in light of His grace. In the name of Jesus, amen.

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