Scandalous, Unlimited, And Uncontrollable Grace - For You

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today’s parable in our Gospel reading is very scandalous.  Yes, today’s parable isn’t ‘fair’ or even ‘just’ according to our way of thinking.  It is rather outrageous to commonsensical reasoning.  It will most likely cause you to fidget and grumble; it may even incite a bit of rage within you.    

With that stated, you have already heard the parable read in today’s Gospel reading, but let me give a brief recap of the parable.

There is a landowner who went into the marketplace to hire people to work in his vineyard.  From the marketplace, he hired some workers in the early morning hours.  Later he hired some more workers around 9:00 AM.  In fact he continued to hire workers throughout the day; some around noon, some around 3:00 PM, and some around 5:00 PM.  This resulted in several of the individuals working a full-days’ work, whereas others worked only a half day, and others only an hour or two.  Up to this point, there is certainly no scandal in the story.

At the end of the day though, the workers who put in a full-days’ work were compensated for a full-days’ work.  Yes, they put in lengthy hours and received a fair payment for their work.  They were obviously not treated unfairly or short changed.  The landowner did not swindle them, abuse them, or take advantage of them.  The landowner said that he would pay them the typical daily wage and they were compensated that daily rate.  So what is the problem? 

The problem occurs at the end of the day when the unthinkable happens.  Those who were hired last, yes those who only worked an hour or so, were paid first, that is, before everyone else.  To make it even more offensive, those that showed up last and only worked an hour or so were given a full-days’ pay. 

Does this not offend you?  It certainly offends me.  Who do these freeloaders think they are?  Do they think that they can just sit around as lazy bums and then be compensated the same rate as those who put in the real hard work, those that have actually ‘earned’ their pay?  Can we tolerate these lazy jerks and their cheap grace?  Speaking of cheap grace, who does the landowner think he is, paying workers who do not even work a full-day?  Everyone knows that a business cannot be run this way.  If a business owner pays people who do not work, everyone knows that the business’s equity will be drained.  This kind of careless cost accounting will surely land the business in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  All of this is downright scandalous, unjust, and appalling, is it not?

The workers in the parable certainly felt this way as well.  They grumbled and complained in low tones at the end of the day, when everyone was compensated.  However, what were they grumbling about precisely?  As we take a closer look at today’s Gospel reading, we notice that the main reason for the grumbling, complaining, and muttering was not necessarily on the amount of pay that was given.  Rather the reason why those who worked all day long grumbled, was because the landowner made everyone equal by lavishing the same generous gift upon everyone, regardless of the amount of work that was done.  Listen to the grumblers, “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.”  Yes, here is the scandal, those who worked one hour were given a full-days’ pay; those who worked eight hours were given a full-days’ pay; and those who worked ten-plus hours were given a full-days’ pay.  Everyone was generously and fairly compensated the exact same rate; everyone was equally gifted and no one was shortchanged by the landowner.  Otherwise stated, everyone was treated the same, regardless of the amount of work done.  There were no comparisons made, no ranking or classification of workers, and no compensation scales.[1]  This resulted in “no room for self-promotion, no occasion for competition, no basis on which one . . . [could] say to another, . . . ‘I am more important than you are.’”[2]   

My friends, this story offends us and we grumble with those who worked a full-days’ wage, because we believe that the more a person does, the more they should be compensated and rewarded.    Yes, even our Midwestern ideals teach us that hard work should be rewarded greater than idle work.  In a word, longer work should be rewarded more substantially than shorter work.  If one cannot be rewarded with greater compensation for greater work, then we at least want there to be some sort of differentiation between workers. Maybe one worker should be labeled ‘senior executive’ and the other work labeled as ‘meager minion.’  Yes, we want—no we demand—that compensation and job status be dependent on the amount of work that we do or do not do.  This is the way that it works in the work force and the way that it works in the vocations in the world.

While compensation and different levels of status are certainly prevalent in our capitalistic economic system today, and sometimes very beneficial to productivity, it could not be further from the way things are in God’s economy.  You see, “God isn’t like you.  He doesn’t think like the way you think.  His ways are not your ways.  And He doesn’t owe you, or anyone, anything.”[3]  You see, the workers who worked all day, grumbled because they saw themselves as entitled to more and within a separate class of individuals.  And what set them apart from the idle workers?  They saw themselves as entitled. 

We too, my friends, are prone to this very sin in regard to the kingdom of heaven, when we begin to think that the Lord somehow owes us a special status and owes us grace for what we have done and what we have not done.  We too sin when we think that we can somehow manage, manipulate, control, and domesticate the Lord’s grace, as if His grace must respond to who we are and what we do. 

Contrary to what our sinful nature may think, the Lord’s grace cannot be confined, controlled, and dispensed on the basis of our agendas, our ethnic heritages, our church backgrounds, our spirituals resumes, the length of time that we have been in the church, our roles in the church, our accomplishments, our community status, and so forth.  Put frankly, the Lord’s grace is not dispensed in the way a can of soda is dispensed, that is, when loose change is inserted and buttons pressed on a vending machine so that a soda is bestowed of our choosing.  We cannot purchase grace with our change and cannot press the Lord’s buttons.  That is (to say), the Lord is not so easily manipulated by us naming and cataloging our good works in order to present them in exchange for His grace.  The reason why this is so?  Like the Great Lion, Aslan, in C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the Lord won’t be tied down and won’t be pressed for He is not a tame lion. 

Therefore, if grace cannot be bought off and if we are not entitled to it, one might wonder if it is even for us.  Dear friends, before we go down this dark road, may it be clear to us that this parable is not about what mankind thinks is ‘fair’ or ‘just.’  It is not about how we can control grace or earn it.  It isn’t about how we can self-promote ourselves in the kingdom of heaven in order to warrant special handouts.  It frankly isn’t about us at all and all of our doings.  Rather this parable is about the gracious landowner and how the landowner’s generosity consequently infuriates.  It is a parable about the Lord’s rich, abounding, mighty, and powerful disposition towards those who do not deserve it.  It is about grace that does not depend on works and what people think they deserve, but grace that is lavished out upon the unworthy—for Christ’s sake.  In short, “the Lord rewards those who don’t deserve it.  He loves those who hate and abuse Him.  He gives gifts to those who steal from Him.  He is generous, merciful, and good despite” the thoughts, words, and deeds of mankind.[4] 

The thing about this parable is that it will always remain scandalous and unfair as long as we see ourselves as the entitled ones, for that is the default position of the old Adam, our sinful flesh.  But with that stated, what exactly do we think that we are entitled to?  Fleshing this out a bit more, what is ours to take?  What have we earned?  Soberly answered, no matter how polished our good works, no matter how clean our resumes, and no matter how many hours of devotion we have put in—even if it is a full-day of work—we must never forget that all we can earn by our own reason and strength is complete and total damnation.  That is our paycheck.  That is our wage.  The only thing that we can offer the Lord is our sin; sin though that does not yield life but wages death.

Do not despair though, for like the jobless people in the market place, you have been called and placed into God’s vineyard as a worker, some of you early in the morning, others of you later in the day and others in the evening.  Regardless of the time though, you have been graciously called.  You have been placed into the kingdom of heaven, because you are loved and He is gracious.  Most certainly you are welcomed into the kingdom, but this does not come without a cost.  What is the cost though?  The cost is the expensive and shed blood of Jesus Christ—blood shed for you.  Yes indeed, in this vineyard, this kingdom, Christ’s church, you have learned and will continue to learn that the defining characteristic of the Lord is unearned and undeserved grace—for you.  As a disciple within this gracious kingdom of heaven, you will work in serving your neighbor and you will walk in the vocations that the Lord has placed you within, as the Holy Spirit leads and sanctifies you daily.  Yes, these good works and vocations are given from the Lord’s hand for you to simply walk in.  Indeed, being called into the vineyard you will continually receive undeserved and unearned grace and mercy that has been gifted to you for Christ’s sake.  It is all pure gift!

Baptized Saints, in the days to come when you and I find ourselves caught up in the mindset of entitlement or find ourselves believing that we can earn grace, be assured that the Lord and His grace will not bend to your or my demands, but rather will exceed “the desires of our selfish hearts.”[5]  Case and point: as you stand shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and sisters at this altar, you all will all stand with different lengths and different lists of sins, yet you and your brothers and sisters will all receive the same body and blood of Jesus Christ for the complete forgiveness of all your sins.  Indeed, in the days to come when you slip into comparing yourself with others, your baptism remains steadfast and true reminding you that you and your brothers and sisters were all baptized into the same name, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” from the same baptismal font, into the same death and resurrection. 

Given the good news that we have heard thus far, it can be faithfully and confidently asserted that in Christ’s church no one can tame, limit, or legislate the Lord and His grace.  The Lion of Judah will not be tamed.  The flowing grace from Mt Calvary cannot be dammed up. The cup overflows for you today and for you tomorrow and the days to come.  As the workers received a full-days’ wage for only an hour of work, it is the same for you.  In fact it is better for you, for you “are no longer mere workers being overpaid.  By grace we are now members of the family, co-owners of the kingdom, [and] the bride of the Son.  We remain with Him.”[6]

Blessed Saints, “May God in His mercy keep this ever new to and for us that our hearts would not grow cold or take His grace for granted.  May He keep us ever mindful of the cost of His love in the death of the Son and the fulfillment of His love in the resurrection as He provides once again in His risen body and blood.”[7]

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34: Concordia Commentary  (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 990.

[2] Ibid, 991.

[3] David H. Petersen, Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons (Fort Wayne, IN: Emmanuel Press, 2012), 2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 4.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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