GOSPEL Matthew 20:1-16
The Workers in the Vineyard
20 September, 2020
A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter say's, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in." Okay, " the man says, "I was married to the same women for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart." That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points." Three points?"
He says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and
service." Terrific!" say's St. Peter. "That's certainly worth a point." "One point? Well I started a
soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans." Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says. "Two points!"
The man cries. "At this rate the only way to get into heaven is by the grace of God!" St. Peter
smiled. "There's your 100 points! Come on in!"
We are not taught grace from the womb. Grace is not the natural posture or reaction of the
human being. What we learn from the day we are born is justice. I have seen this time and
time again in the playground. Kids know what is fair and what is not. The cry of “that’s not fair!’ can be heard echoing across a schoolyard almost every day of the week.
Justice is such a part of us that we even have a name for that innate knowledge of what is fair. We call it natural justice. Grace, on the other hand, is so alien and new to us, that we call it amazing grace. Natural justice, but amazing grace.
The Lutheran Church has for years been made up of that good Germanic stock that prides itself on it’s ability to work, and to work hard. The German settlers in Australia got tacit respect from the English settlers here, because even though they kept to themselves, they worked like Trojans. We all know the motto of a good day's work for a good day’s pay.
We know what is fair. We know that God is completely just. God knows what is fair. He is good, so he makes and enforces the rules fairly. We base systems of government on his rules, as most law-codes these days, including ours in Australia, are based, at least in part, on the ten commandments.
How can the two truths of God’s complete justice and God’s complete goodness, intersect?
What Jesus is trying to teach us from this parable, which of course is about the Heavenly
Father, as the Vineyard has always been seen as a symbol of the kingdom, is that God’s
goodness to others, does not take away from his justice to us. Jonah. I can’t help but think of Jonah. Here’s a guy, chased from pillar to post by God, delivered to where he had to be by a whale, feeling like he’s cursed to give a message he doesn’t want to give, and when he finally gives it: “you are all going to be destroyed if you don’t repent!” he was at least expecting to see some results. So he sat back in the desert under a bush to watch the city get fried with divine fire. In the Australian version he would have a beach umbrella and an esky and nothing happened! They repented! And he howled to the heavens: “It’s not fair!” I went through all of that for nothing! Why I oughta, come on God, don’t make me come up there! And he completely failed to see that what looked like an injustice to him was in reality the goodness of God saving the lives of a whole city full of people! He didn’t see the grace. He didn’t see God’s goodness and God’s justice intersecting.
The workers in the vineyard, toiling all day for the wage they had agreed on, saw as unfair to themselves, the fact that the latecomers got exactly the same amount. They didn’t see God’s undeserved goodness to those men. Even though they got what they were promised, they still thought it was unfair. They didn’t see grace.
You see, grace is amazing, like the hymn says, when it happens to us, but it is frustrating,
annoying and unfair grace sometimes when it happens to others, like it was for Jonah, and the vineyard workers. The workers that used to gather in the marketplace were usually chosen on the grounds of their ability to work. So a shrewd vineyard owner would get there early and pick the best workers. He would get a full day from the best workers, and get a good deal for his denarius. They would be proud every time they were chosen first as the best workers. You could imagine them sneering when the late shift came in “I wonder how much they will get for their few hours work. Being such lazy workers they probably don’t deserve even the few shekels that they will get.”
They sound like Christians, don’t they? How is it that we do all the hard work, we are Christian all our lives, we bring our children up in the faith, we come to church all the time, and someone who has lived a life of sin and debauchery gets just the same heaven as we do? They get all the same benefits. Isn’t that unfair? There is a problem with our thinking.
Often it comes down to this: Do we think that we were chosen first because we would make
the best Christian? Were we chosen first because surely God would be prouder to have us than some of these others because of the fact that we lead such a good life?
We have it backwards. You and I are no better than anyone else. We were not chosen because we are good. We are good because we are chosen.
You see, in God’s vineyard, we don’t submit a résumé, and get chosen on how worthy we are. Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps it is because we are the most in need of saving that we were saved first? Maybe God knew what we would become if we did not grow up in his grace.
I heard a good saying a while back to explain why it should be unfair to say that Christians
think they’re better than anyone else. After all, when you see a lot of cars gathered around a
doctor’s surgery, you don’t assume that they are the healthiest people in town, but they are the sickest. But there is a difference. The people in the doctor’s surgery know that they are sick. A lot of people in the church don’t. They don’t see that the reason they are there is because of grace, not goodness. Some of them think that they are the healthiest people in town. That is when they start to judge others, to be critical, to be unduly proud of their own service and lives. How do you view those who are saved out of the worst kinds of sin and slavery? Do you “tut tut” and judge about the kind of lives they have had and ask how they can dare to come into a church or do you rejoice with the angels in heaven?
Do you see injustice or grace? Because you know, the fact that you are Christian, the fact that you are saved, is an injustice. Justice says, we should be dead in sin. But it is also by the power of grace. Grace says, you are alive in Christ. It really is Amazing grace.