Bible Text: Matthew 20:1-16 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016
There are two ways you can deal with God. The first is that you can work out an agreement with Him. Earn what you get. Like the guys who got hired first. You work a day, you get a denaius, a day’s wage. People do this. They want God to do something in exchange for their good behavior or fixing something in their lives. “God, if you save me, I’ll do x, y, or z.” “Jesus, help me and I’ll be a better person.” This is how the world figures God works. (Otherwise, those guys wouldn’t have assumed they were going to get more when the others got the same.) God gives you what you earn. You get what you deserve. That doesn’t usually work so well because you’re going to get what you deserve when you don’t hold up your end of the bargain. Sinners don’t keep the commandments. They may be hired in the morning but there’s no way they did a full day’s work. The worst thing about dealing with God this way is that in the end, all you have is what you have earned and that will never be enough for eternal life and paradise. You want to deal with God like that, go ahead, but the result will be very sad. “Take what you got and go away.” But the other way of dealing with God isn’t about you at all. It’s about His grace. It’s about Him giving you not what is fair, not what you’ve earned, but what His generosity comes up with: forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That comes to you not because of you, but because of Him, His grace, His mercy, His generosity. His gifts are just that: gifts. Undeserved, given freely, given to you and the world.
I should think that the less you worked in the vineyard, the more generous a denarius is. If you work all day and you get paid a day’s wage, well, meh, that’s not that big of a deal. If you worked half the day and got a day’s wage, that’s pretty cool. If you only worked an hour and got a day’s wage? Awesome! And here’s the point: We could extend that out infinitely when it comes to our sinfulness. If you don’t have a lot of sins, what Jesus has for you isn’t that impressive. But if we understand just exactly what it is the Law says about us, that no sin is too small to condemn us and no work is big enough to save us or make us right, then we’ll begin to see just what exactly Jesus has done. His work. His bearing the heat of the day. His brow crowned with thorns, His hands nailed to the cross. His side pierced for blood and water to flow. His enduring the agony of death and the punishment of the Law for those who wouldn’t lift a finger to keep it. His death on the cross in the place of sinners who demand something from God and think they’ve earned something when they’ve earned nothing. It is the death of Christ for sinners that is the demonstration of the vineyard owner’s mercy in giving all of us way more than we deserve. To put it another way: the point of the parable isn’t something about us but something about God. It’s that He is merciful and He dishes out that mercy to those who don’t deserve it at all. It’s His forgiveness, life, and salvation to do with what He wants. And he wants to give it to you.
And He does. At the font. At the altar. From His Word. From this pulpit. Grace. Mercy. Not what is fair. What is “just.” What is “right.” He gives you the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation. He rescues you from death and the devil. He opens heaven and paradise to you. Why? Because you earned it? Nope. Worked for it? Nope. Kept your end of some bargain with God? Nope again. He gives it to you because His mercy is His to do with what He wants. And He wants you to have it. To have all of it. To have the Jesus-born-of-a-woman-grown-up-to-die-and-rise-for-you mercy that means it’s yours. Look around at the church. Here you are. Brought in by the Lord. Some of you were scooped up by Jesus when you were babies. For others it was later in life. Some of you have rotten, obvious sins, and others have dark, hidden sins. Some of you are dealmakers with the Lord. Others might not even know what to try to negotiate. Some have drifted away and been brought back. Others of you have been here your whole lives. The thing is, none of that is the point. Time frames and quantities of sins and all of that is really not the point at all. Jesus is. He has borne the heat of the day for you. And you receive a wage based on His work. The vineyard owner is super generous. He’s crazy generous because He pays people like no other employer ever: not on your hours worked or your performance, but because He likes to gift His riches to you. And that’s what He does. After Transfiguration last week, it probalby won’t surprise you to learn that right after this Gospel lesson too, Jesus gives another “going to Jerusalem to die and rise” speech. That’s because it is by His death and resurrection, by His water, Word, body and blood, that you are called and chosen to be on the receiving end of His immeasurable gifts. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.