Sermon audio here.
God’s unfair, and it’s a really good thing He is. That’s the point of today’s Holy Gospel. Our numbness to the Gospel has caused us to forget how fundamentally unfair grace is. Our Lord tells today’s parable to remind us of this fact.
G.K. Chesterton once said,
“Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked… It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal and that you are a paralytic.”
What Chesterton has in mind is immorality. He means, “Don’t think you’re more sophisticated than your grandmother because you watch shows filled with vulgarities and aren’t bothered by them. It could be that she was highly intelligent and sensitive and you have been paralyzed by evil so much that you don’t even notice it.”
This is the way sin works. Satan would numb you to the point of paralysis, so that you forget about God’s Law and become comfortable with that which God has forbidden. Repent.
This same sort of numbness also applies to the Gospel. We’ve gone way beyond cheap grace. We act like it’s an entitlement, as though God owed us salvation. Beggars are in no position to make demands. Repent.
That’s what’s wrong with those who worked all day and grumbled. They, too, received what they didn’t deserve. They should have been thankful that they were given a job in the first place, and that they were paid a fair wage to do it.
But when they saw the vineyard owner being generous with others, they became jealous, and now the good things they had didn’t seem so good any more. Had they been hired at the end of the day and still paid a full day’s wage, you wouldn’t have heard a single complaint from them. Their eyes were evil because the owner was good.
This parable is a warning. God doesn’t owe you, or anyone, anything—except temporal and eternal punishment. Inexplicably, He loves you and welcomes you into His kingdom. Not for free, to be sure, but at the terribly high price of His own Son’s blood, whose physical suffering didn’t even begin to compare to the spiritual agony of being forsaken by His Father on the cross and not even knowing why.
Our Lord could have no consolation, which means that on the cross, He didn’t have the comfort of knowing that He was earning the salvation of the world or that He’d be raised on the Third Day. God grants no comfort to the condemned, and that’s exactly what happened to Christ on the cross. God treated Him like a guilty sinner, and there’s no comfort in suffering God’s wrath.
It’s not at all fair, but that God’s not fair is the essence of the Gospel. He loves those who hate Him and gives gifts to those who steal from Him. Everything He gives to you, He gives despite yourself.
There was another parable that was popular around the time of our Lord, one that sounded a lot like today’s Holy Gospel. It was told at the funeral of a famous rabbi who’d died at age 28. One day, a king sent workers out into a field. After two hours, he came and took one of the servants by the hand and walked up and down the rows with him, offering him refreshments while the others worked.
At the end of the day, the king paid all his workers, including this man who’d only worked 2 hours out of the 12. As in our Lord’s parable, everyone was paid the same amount. Naturally, there was grumbling. Those who’d worked all day felt they were entitled to more than those who’d only worked two hours.
But the king said the one servant had done as much in two hours as the rest did all day, so he was being fair after all. This story was told at the young rabbi’s funeral because many thought the same thing had happened to him—that God was rewarding him early because he’d been so good in his short, 28 years.
The moral of the story—which also happens to be false doctrine—is that God will reward you according to your work. Nobody Christ has ever welcomed into His kingdom deserved to be there. Salvation isn’t a reward, it’s unfair. The kingdom of God is where beggars get rewarded for the work of Christ.
You hear all this nonsense about so-called “Christian businesses” all the time, but the truth is, God’s Kingdom is the worst business model out there. Businesses can’t afford to pay workers who don’t work. But this is the way God runs the universe.
Even unbelievers benefit from His grace. The worst existence on earth is better than what we all deserve in hell. God gives daily bread even to all evil people. Even unbelievers enjoy good things in creation, things like sunshine and water and food. The Lord owes us nothing. Every good gift—coffee and biscuits and swing sets and puppies and a dry towel—is a gift and comes from God’s mercy.
When it comes to God’s Kingdom, getting what you’ve earned is the worst thing that could possibly happen. That’s why people go to hell. They’ve rejected what God says about them being beggars and think their best is good enough. It’s not. This is why the beggars’ cry—Lord, have mercy upon us—is found on our lips every Sunday.
And it’s a cry Christ always answers, every single Sunday, by putting His grace, His Body and His Blood, onto your lips. Only Satan would rob you of this consolation.
Now it’s true that faithful congregations haven’t always celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day, but this only began because there was no pastor around. About a century ago, pastors would serve so many congregations they might not make it to a given congregation more than once a month, and the people held the Sacrament in such high regard that they wouldn’t entrust its stewardship to just anyone. These faithful Christians would have rejoiced in the opportunity to receive the Sacrament every week, but the lack of pastors made it impossible.
Of course time passed and more pastors were being ordained and you’d think, “Great, problem solved,” but not so fast. By now, congregations were used to their monthly celebrations of the Sacrament. Now all of the sudden you have Lutherans talking like Pietists, defending their neglect of the Sacrament for emotional reasons, putting undue emphasis on self-preparation (as if we could ever prepare enough) or talking about how weekly celebrations of the Sacrament make it “less special.”
But for Christ and the apostles, the Sacrament is at the very heart of the Divine Service. It is the means by which Christ continues to come, in the flesh, to His people.
In this Sacrament, Jesus gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to those who need as much of Him as they can possibly get. Applied to God’s Word, Pietistic logic would lead you to conclude that you should read the Bible as little as possible, because then when you do read it, it’ll be more meaningful. Receiving God’s grace more often doesn’t make it less effective. When it comes to the Sacrament, “less is more” is the devil’s motto.
Those who labored all day forgot they were beggars and had an entitlement complex. That’s one of the Church’s biggest problems today, because the last thing our flesh would have us believe is that we are, in fact, needy beggars.
The beggars, on the other hand, were glad to receive anything at all, and they ended up getting more than they could have possibly imagined. They took the owner at His Word and came on the basis of His promise: “Come to the vineyard, and what is right I will give you.”
The owner didn’t tell them how much they’d earn, and they, no doubt, weren’t expecting a full day’s wage. But they received that and more. Not only did they receive a denarius, they got to stay with the owner in His Vineyard.
To those who worked all day, he said, “take what belongs to you and go.” Those are words of condemnation. Take what belongs to you—your sin—and go to the place it’s earned you—hell.
But the beggars aren’t told to go anywhere. This is how God’s Kingdom works. God gives you not only forgiveness and eternal life, but also the comfort and joy of Christ’s presence. In Christ, it’s “Take what I’ve earned for you, My Body and Blood, and stay.”
And this staying is important. It means that when you suffer, Christ suffers. As St. Paul says, when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. And if this is true of the body in general, how much more is it true of Christ, it’s Head? Again, St. Paul says,
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” (Col 1:24).
Jesus has certainly accomplished salvation, but His suffering is not yet complete. That will end only on the Last Day when He comes again in glory, for only then will the suffering of His Church, His Body, end. Christ is the faithful Bridegroom. Anything that hurts you hurts Him also.
As comforting as it is that Christ claims your burdens as His own and gives you eternal salvation, He gives you even more. Jesus promises that you will sit with Him on His throne and reign with Him in glory for all eternity. In Christ, you are no longer overpaid workers, beggars, or those who’ve been unfaithful to God in pursuit of your favorite idols. Christ has baptized you into His family, made you a co-regent of His Kingdom, and invites you to His wedding feast, not as a mere guest, but as His very own Bride.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
Portions borrowed and adapted from David Petersen’s Septuagesima sermon in
Thy Kingdom Come (Ft. Wayne: Emmanuel Press, 2012)
St. Matthew 20:1–16
Septuagesima, 2016: Entitled Beggars
Around the Word Bible Studies