Sermon for Pentecost 16 – September 20, 2020
+16th Sunday after Pentecost – September 20th, 2020 +
Series A: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:12-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
The Parable of the Gracious Vineyard Owner
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A misnomer. That’s the word we use when a person, place, or thing is mis-named. Like when you haul out a few classics for family game night only to discover that Yahtzee is better called “Yelling and Bookkeeping.” Sorry…Hah! More like not sorry! And Monopoly is a good recipe for family fight night.
That’s what we in Matthew 20, a marvelous biblical example of a misnomer.
Most of our bibles call this story the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. And while the laborers in the vineyard are an important part of this parable, they’re not the most important. It’s about the master of the vineyard.
Calling it the Parable of the Laborers of the Vineyard isn’t wrong, it just buries the lead; puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable. It’s meant to draw our attention away from our work and wages and the works and wages of others and onto the gracious work of the vineyard owner.
As we’ll see, Jesus’s parable should really be called something like “The Parable of the Outlandishly Gracious Vineyardist,” or “The Parable of the Mercifully Unfair Vineyard Owner,” or “The Parable of the Outrageously Generous Master of the Vineyard.”
For that’s what this parable is all about: God’s mercy, grace, and generosity for all in Jesus. It’s about God giving us all what we don’t deserve so that we all live by his grace in Christ.
Here’s how the story begins. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius[ a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
So far so good. This seems to fit our understanding of economics. A denarius was roughly a day’s wages. Put in your 12-hour shift. Clock in. Clock out. Get paid your denarius. That’s the way of the world. But remember, the ways of the world are not the ways of the kingdom of heaven.
Then, for whatever reason – maybe high yield, maybe a quick harvest was needed – whatever it was, the master needed more workers. So he goes to the local downtown market and offers to pay what is right.
‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. That’s 12 noon and 3 pm in our reckoning.
Later on…about the eleventh hour the master went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
I don’t know about you, but this vineyard owner is a rather odd fellow. It’s the 11th hour, 5pm. One hour to quittin’ time. And yet he goes out and hires more laborers.
Here’s where the fun really begins. The vineyard owner said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ So the 11th hour workers get in line first. And to their surprise – and the surprise of the guys at the end of the line – they get a denarius. A day’s wage. Let’s say $120. $10 an hour. Pretty good, right?! Absolutely. Generous. Gracious.
Now, put yourself in the sandals of the guys at the end of the line. They’re watching the foreman handout a denarius to the guys at the head of the line. And they’re thinking, calculating, “Whoa, a day’s wage for only an hour of work? That’s a denarius an hour. $1,440 a day. Sweet!”
But what did they receive? The same. Equal. They all received a denarius. And what was their reaction? We’ve all heard it. Thought it. Said it. “That’s not fair.” ‘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.’
They grumbled. Israel grumbled in the wilderness. The Pharisees grumbled against Jesus when he ate with tax collectors and sinners. They grumbled against the master’s generosity. “Listen buddy, “I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. 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? Literally, Jesus says, they have an evil eye towards the master. They despise his generosity and graciousness.
What does this all mean? Why does Jesus tell his disciples this parable? In part, to burst the disciples’ (and our) giant bubble of pride and self-righteousness. In the kingdom of heaven, there’s no room for self-righteousness, only the righteousness that comes by grace in Christ. That’s how we live, labor, love our neighbor – by grace in Christ.
Remember the misnomer. It’s not about the laborers. It’s about the grace and generosity of the vineyard owner. The day-long laborers in the story get it all wrong when they start comparing their work and wages to the other laborers, especially those 11th hour guys. So the disciples. So do we.
So the last will be first, and the first last. That’s the key to the whole story.
For the ways of the kingdom of heaven are not like the kingdoms of this world. As Isaiah says, the thoughts of this gracious vineyard owner are not our thoughts. God does not reward the rewardable. He is good, generous, gracious. God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The kingdom of heaven is not about our merit, earning, working, or any transaction with God. It’s not about how good or bad we think we are, or how good and bad we actually are. It’s not about us. It’s about the Gracious vineyard owner, which means this parable is about Jesus crucified for you.
It’s about Jesus who went to the cross that we who are last in sin and death might be made first in his life laid down for us. It’s about Jesus who labored on the cross from the 6th to the 9th hour, who bore the burden of our trespasses, and the scorching heat of God’s wrath – all for you. It’s about the generous vineyard owner who sent his son to be the true vine, and to stretch out his arms from the cross to this altar, this cup, this bread. To give you the wages – not of sin – but of his very life won for you. For all. Forever.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen. The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.