1 “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. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Too often, we forget that Jesus lived in history. Just as we have well-known stories in our day that form and shape our understanding of the world, so did Jesus and the people of His day. Today, if someone says, “I have a Cinderella story to tell you…” you know how the story will go – rags to riches. Well, in Jesus’ day, there was a famous parable that is remarkably similar to this one before us. This parable had been told during the funeral sermon of a well-known rabbi who died when he was only twenty-eight years old. The parable went like this:
A king hired laborers to work in his vineyard. After watching the men work for a couple of hours, he noticed one had a lot more ability than the rest. So, the king invited that laborer to spend the rest of the day with him eating and relaxing while the rest continued to work. At the end of the day, the king lined everyone up to pay them. The one who only worked two of the twelve hours was paid the same as those who had worked all day. The others complained. But the king replied, “This man worked with so much skill that he accomplished as much in two hours as you did in twelve. So, don’t complain; I’m being fair.”
The point of this parable at the twenty-eight-year-old’s funeral was that this famous rabbi had done enough good works to go to heaven early. In other words, be good, do good, and get rewarded. Santa Claus anyone?
Now, there is a kernel of truth to that parable. It is right, proper, and just to reward good works. If you tell your kids they cannot play outside until their rooms are clean and one gets it done more quickly, it is right to not make them wait until the other is finished. The same goes for everyday life. Rewarding good works is the expected thing. It is fair and right to pay according to work done. But there is no grace in that.
Jesus’ parable this morning stands that other parable on its head. Our Lord isn’t teaching about fair wages or justice. He is teaching us about grace. Jesus retells the well-known parable, and in Jesus’ version, a bunch of lazybones who show up just before the checks are written get paid as though they had worked all day.
This is how it is in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, bums who don’t work get rewarded for the work of others. But too often, we complain about this just like those in the parable.
When others are happy or blessed, we grumble and complain. We get covetous and envious. When someone gets a shiny, new toy, we think of all the reasons they don’t deserve it. We murmur to ourselves and others that they must have cheated someone else or gotten it by some undeserving means.
Because of our sin, we like generosity and mercy when we benefit, but not when others do. In our pride, we can even become embarrassed when we receive a generous gift or a simple act of kindness. Think of the rabid feminists who believe that a man opening a door for a woman is an act of micro-aggression.
We are prideful people who are always measuring. We look at our lives and works and compare them against those of the people around us, and somehow, we always end up on top. We keep score and expect God to notice. But then, when things go wrong, when we recognize our failures, our pride causes us to swing into despair. But even in our despair, we keep measuring. We know that we don’t measure up. And our despair makes us wonder if God loves us. Repent.
Repent and see the comfort of this parable. It teaches us that the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of fairness or equal pay. If that were the case, if God’s kingdom was where people got what they deserved, we would all spend eternity in hell. God’s kingdom, God’s vineyard, is a vineyard of grace.
With the Gospel, there is no room for pride or boasting in what we do because there is no doing on our part. Everything has been done by Christ, and we simply benefit because of His work. We who were dead in our sins, enemies of God, and children of wrath are raised, pardoned, and transferred into God’s kingdom.
And, with the Gospel, there is no room for despair. God’s love has been poured out for you to save you. In Christ, God has won your salvation on the cross. On the cross, Jesus bore the heat of the day, the heat of God’s wrath. And you, believer, get His wages.
Rejoice. The kingdom of heaven is the opposite of the kingdoms of men. You don’t earn. You don’t pay. The goods are given for free. It would drive any man-made business into the ground, but God doesn’t care. God isn’t out to make a living. He is out to give away His kingdom.
In Christ’s kingdom, grace reigns, sins are forgiven, and wretched orphans are made to be beloved children. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.