+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: Matthew 20:13
Theme: Beyond Fairness
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Christ did not come to make life fair but to redeem sinners. He did not come to cater to our sense of inequity but to reconcile us to the heavenly Father. Misplaced are all hopes that the main task of Christianity is to establish a utopia on earth. Without question compassion for the most vulnerable of society, regardless of status or belief, is one of the great strengths and legacies of Christianity. But the God who was born in a manger and hung from a cross offers something far beyond fairness. He has plumbed the depths of hell on our behalf. That truth transcends all human ideologies and pursuits.
Today’s parable illustrates how human thinking fails to understand the mind of God. The story is one of a vineyard owner who hires workers for his vineyard. The topic is about the nature of grace. Grace is a particularly divine quality. It is a fundamental concept in understanding the person of Christ. The workday starts when the owner agrees with the workers for the day’s wage and sends them out early in the morning. As the day progresses he keeps sending out more people he finds standing around with nothing to do. He does this at 9:00AM, noon, and 3:00PM. He even sends some out at five in the afternoon. The workday ended at six. The last workers worked only one hour in the vineyard.
The crux of the story comes when it is time to give the wages. The owner tells the foreman to call in the workers. We note a reversal of protocol when he says to pay those who were hired last first and proceed to paying those who were hired first, last. This alerts the hearer of Jesus’ word to something significant coming up. Typically, those hired first would be paid first. But now these first ones hired are there to witness what the others receive for pay. To their great surprise they receive the same pay, one denarius, as everyone who worked the entire day. This does not sit well with the first group and they cry “unfair.” But the owner explains that they were receiving the wage they agreed to. What reason do they have to be upset because the owner generously decides to give the others the same amount?
So here were learn something fundamental about the nature of God. His love towards humanity transcends human understanding. He is not fickle, unfair or whimsical in his treatment of us: He is gracious. The nature of His activity towards us is such that it is without preference. He makes us into nothing so that in Him we may have everything. The Word of God is a dynamic entity which acts upon us in a purposeful way. God’s intent is always that we be beneficiaries of His grace.
But if truth be told, we don’t always want others to receive as much grace as we do. And to not want this is to misunderstand who God is; as the workers in the vineyard story indicates. Spiritually, God must crush us before He can revive us. The law of God is the great equalizer. The judgment of God against sin makes no exceptions or preferences. We are all lumped together in the category of the condemned with no distinction. If we are honest we know that this is repulsive to us- down to the core of our being. How humiliating, how insulting, that a supposedly discerning God says that you and I are no better than the criminal sentenced for unspeakable crimes! How unfair that we should be labeled with those who have no conscience about breaking the law! How unreasonable that our honest efforts to be spiritually upright would not be recognized! We are stripped of status, rank and privilege! Under the crushing hand of the law you and I are no one of consequence. In fact, we must repent for who we selfishly strive to be.
But in as much as the law of God is the great equalizer, the great leveler, so much more is the grace of God the great compensator. The grace of God pardons the most unspeakable of crimes. The grace of God is absolutely unreasonable from a human perspective because it does not take into account any merit, worth, value or desirability. God’s grace is completely undiscerning and unprejudiced about the value of its object. The Scripture says we “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”1 Christ plays no favourites. He never closes His ears to the cries of the penitent.
Dear friends, God’s compassion to you embraces both present and future dimensions. Baptism assimilates us into both of these realities. Baptism cuts us into the inheritance. And it does so not by some sort of artificial charity catering to the idea that everyone deserves the experience of heaven. We are only recipients of the baptismal inheritance because Christ reconciled the Father to us. We were estranged, cut-off, under condemnation and exile. Now we are adopted and become co-heirs with Christ. Our names are written in heaven.
But don’t think for a moment that faith is like an heirloom. It is not an inert entity that magically maintains its value and vibrancy. Faith is a dynamic, living, breathing; relationship which if not exercised and fed will die. Just as we can’t eat once and expect to live on that sustenance indefinitely; we can’t treat baptism like once-off event that is soon relegated to the historical past. Its power and blessings are exercised daily; yet it remains a gift.
Think of the parable today. The daily wage buys daily bread. We learn to pray for it regularly and give thanks for the same. But lasting sustenance must come from a divine source. We cannot work for it, barter for it, or otherwise acquire it. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he will live forever…Your forefathers at manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”2
That’s why Holy Communion is mature food. It is not for the self-righteous, for the Scripture says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”3 It is not to be received in a prideful manner or taken lightly. Thus believers should always pray that the Holy Spirit would work genuine repentance in their hearts before partaking of this sacred meal. Christ’s blood is a holy vintage, a divine gift.
The generosity of the vineyard owner is just one more illustration of the benevolence of our heavenly Father. Satan incites us to cry unfair and even question God’s judgment. But the Spirit points us to a cross and there all questions of unfairness are answered. The Scripture says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made live by the Spirit.”4 We too have been made alive by the Spirit and even now participate in the resurrected life of Christ. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Romans 3:24 2 John 6:51, 58 3 1 Corinthians 11:27
4 1 Peter 3:18
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
21 September 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt