Stop Climbing, Ranking, And Comparing - You Have Christ!

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

In the name of Jesus. Amen.


We are always ranking one another, and we often do it with an evil eye. That is to say, we have this sinful quality that comes from within to look at everyone around us and rank them on a metaphoric ladder. 


For example, if we use age as a label on the ladder, we will place wise-older people on top of the ladder and foolish-younger youths on the bottom. But, if we are young, we will do the exact opposite - energetic youthfulness on the top; backward elderly persons on the bottom. We not only do this with age, but we do this with looks and appearances too. Those from the big city put fashionable cosmopolitan people on top and unsophisticated hillbillies on the bottom. However, those from the country do the opposite - rugged lumberjacks are on the top, whereas wimpy soft pen pushers are on the bottom. 


To the point, we find these ladders everywhere else too – in politics, at work, in businesses, in families, in sports, and especially in high schools. Yes, especially in high school.  


Now, please know that I am not advocating for participation trophies or the removal of good ol’ competition – where there is no such thing as losers. In life, we indeed win some and lose some. Furthermore, I am not trying to make the case that everyone is good enough, smart enough, and strong enough to be on the top of every ladder. As you all know, I cannot be trusted to do plumbing work or electrical work for that matter. I am truly on the bottom when it comes to many things in life, and so are you. But instead, I am talking about our evil eyes and envious grumbling hearts that seek to stomp on others around us. I am talking about the sinful attitude that we carry around – the chip on our shoulders – that causes us to inflate with pride, boast in our greatness and push others down the ladder. I am talking about our evil and envious eyes always taking inventory of others around us, and this need for us to keep up with the Joneses – and this desire to even destroy the Joneses down the street so that we can stay on top with supposed greatness.  


You see, this is exactly what Jesus’ parable from Matthew’s Gospel is talking about. Jesus gives us a glimpse of what happens when an evil eye and an envious heart mingles with the kingdom of heaven.  

In the parable, a bunch of different workers were hired throughout the day. Some were hired early; some were hired late. However, this parable punches our evil eye and kicks our envious hearts when we hear that everyone got paid the same, regardless of the amount of time they worked.


You see, Jesus is teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven does not use ladders. Ladders do not work with Christian theology. God does not put forth a heavenly ladder and then give you grace based upon how high you are on the ladder.  


Just think, for a moment, if Christianity did use ladders. If the Lord gave out grace to you based on how hard you have worked, how hard you have prayed, and how much you have studied, well… the Lord would effectively be in your debt. If you climbed super high, then the Lord would be obligated to cough up grace to you for your climbing efforts. Furthermore, if the Lord handed out grace depending on how high you made it up the theological ladder, then it would be your job not to offer a helping hand to others but to step on their hands and faces as you clamored up the ladder to get grace goodies and grace trophies from God. If Christianity was about ladders, you would have no time to serve your neighbor in need, for your mission would be to climb and climb and climb some more.  


Perhaps we are thinking about this all wrong, though. If the Lord honored ladder climbing, who is to say that we would be on the top at all? If we are truly honest with ourselves, wouldn’t we be on the bottom all the time? As your pastor, I don’t know how I could even make it two feet up the ladder, for there is not a Sunday morning that doesn’t go by without me wanting to hit the snooze and sleep in. The fact of the matter, if we take are honest with ourselves, we are typically not four steps up and two steps down, but two steps up and then a big thump as we fall on our rear end on the ground. 


Dear friends, let’s be honest. We are hovering around the bottom of the ladder, just pretending that we are on the top.  And everyone else who claims to be on top of the ladder? All those movie stars, all those Joneses, all those superstars? It is just one big smokescreen. It is a fa├žade. They are pretending to have it all together with perfect thoughts, words, and deeds when they really don’t. 


Dear friends, God does not connect His grace to your climbing. His grace is not attached to a ladder as well. No! His grace is connected to His Son so that no one may boast. God saves you and gives you grace not in view of your thoughts, words, and deeds but in view of the mercy and work of Christ on your behalf. It is not about you ascending up a ladder, for they do not exist. Instead, Christ came down to humanity some two thousand years ago and comes to you now in the Word and Sacraments.  


And so, if you are 100 years old or ten days old, you have the same grace through your baptisms because you have the same, Christ. If you are a plumber in overalls or a pastor in a chasuble, you have the same grace at the altar because you have the same, Christ. If you are in a dusty old church with eight members and a broken organ, or in a church with 1,000 members and an angelic sounding choir, you have the same grace in the absolution because you have the same, Christ. If you come from a family on the wrong side of the tracks, or if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you have the same grace because you have the same, Christ.  


Now, if this news gives you great joy, then God be praised. God be praised that the Kingdom of God is neither connected to ladders nor is dependent upon you – but is connected and dependent upon Christ who is for you.  


However, if this message gives you frustration, or if you are grumbling in your hearts, repent with me. Repent of your evil eye and your envious hearts, for they are not consistent with the Kingdom of Heaven. Before God’s Law, your huffing and puffing up the ladder is just not that impressive. Keep in mind that in the church, we stand on this floor of this sanctuary – together - and confess - together - that we are poor miserable sinners. And together, we receive the same Christ and the same grace that forgives, renews, and strengthens us. The Lord forgive you - and me – for our envious eyes and our grumbling hearts.  


So, considering all of this, are we all equal? Yes, we are with respect to forgiveness, life, and salvation. However, looking back at the parable, it is important to note that the workers did indeed work different amounts of time. And the same is true in this church and life. But here is the catch. The work we do is not for the purpose of getting saved or obtaining grace. We don’t do good works to be saved (which goes the way of unbelief), but we do good works because we are already saved (this goes the way of faith).   


Consider the Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, 


“When you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”


In other words, you and I do not need to keep track of our works in the Kingdom of Heaven. We do not need to log how many hours we have done. We do not need to keep track of how many degrees we have behind our name. We are free from ladders, for we have Christ – He comes to us. And in Him, we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm.


And so, when we do good work or put in a long day in our vocations, we know that we have done everything expected of us and can be matter-of-fact and say, 


“Huh, well, the work is done. I just did what I was told to do and called to do. I had the same grace before I did the work and the same grace after I did the work because I have the same, Christ.”


We can loosely paraphrase the Apostle Paul, 


“God has showered grace and kindness upon me in Christ. Saving me was His idea and work. Now, I simply trust in Him, knowing that He gives me grace from start to finish. Nope, I don’t play the major role. If I did, I would be all wrapped up in needing to climb a ladder, where I would step on my neighbor while bragging foolishly about my puny accomplishments. 

Nope! The Lord created me and saved me. And in Christ, I am His work of art. What relief and joy - the Lord has prepared good works for me to simply walk in because this Christian life is a pure gift.”   


In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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