The Workers In The Vineyard + Matthew 20:1-16
The baptismal life is a life of lows and highs, of repentance and forgiveness, of realizing sin and removing that which causes us to sin, of needing a Savior and returning to the Lord our God that we would have the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
In Holy Baptism, the Old Adam, our Original Sin, that which we are born with, that which separates us from the love of God, is drowned and killed. In Holy Baptism, we are joined to the suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. This is the low that is part of the Christian life. And with the Old Adam’s death, the New Man is raised to life, living before God in righteousness and purity all the days of our life. In Holy Baptism, we are joined to Jesus’ resurrection and life. We who have died now live. This is the high part of the Christian life.
The Christian Church year is the same way. If you can think way back to November, we were in the season of Advent. Advent is the beginning of the church year, it is a period of somberness and preparation, a season of repentance and humility, a four week period of looking for Jesus to come to us at Christmas, as our Immanuel, our God with us. Advent is a low point in the church year. And with the twelve days of Christmas and the four weeks of Epiphany, we have been celebrating for forty days. We have been rejoicing in the God who is the Way, the Truth and the Life-Jesus Christ. Christmas and Epiphany are high points in the church year.
Today is Septuagesima Sunday, which means “seventy days”. We are roughly seventy days from Easter and our Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. Today, we are beginning the season of the church year known as pre-lent. Pre-lent is a three weeks of preparation for the forty days of Lent. We need this time of preparation. Like driving a car, we can’t go from sixty to zero immediately, or we will get hurt. And we can’t go from celebration to suffering immediately, either, it’s too hard, it doesn’t work. The baptismal life is not, live today for tomorrow we die, the baptismal life is meant to be slow and gradual; we need to prepare. The baptismal life takes work. As St. Paul says concerning the baptismal life, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Our idea of Mardis Gras, where we party like there is no tomorrow on Fat Tuesday, and then give it all up on Ash Wednesday, doesn’t work, because on Ash Wednesday, when we are supposed to fast and pray and attend special services, beginning our long journey to the cross on Good Friday we are not prepared, we are still hung over. And if we are not prepared, we will fail in our efforts, we will not receive the prize. And so today, with Septuagesima Sunday, we begin to change and to prepare, but gradually, slowly. Look around you, last Sunday the color on the altar was white, today they are green. We don’t go from white to purple, which is the color for Lent, the change is gradual. The same thing with our liturgy, it changes, gradually, slowly. Today, you may have noticed that we didn’t sing “Glory to God in the Highest” and we didn’t sing the alleluias prior to the Gospel reading. We are preparing for Lent. Our Lord Jesus wants us to be successful in our efforts to receive the Crown of Life when He comes again to judge the quick and the dead, and so He prepares us, gradually, slowly.
Even the Gospel readings, which we hear today and over the next three weeks, slowly prepare us for Lent and Holy Week and Easter. This week we hear that grace, the love of God toward us, is undeserved. Next Sunday we will hear that grace is received as a gift, we don’t do anything to receive it, Jesus gives it to us freely. The last Sunday, we will hear that grace, the love of God, is not easily understood. These three weeks of the pre-lent season, gradually prepare us for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week and Easter.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. The kingdom of heaven is about God the Father, He is the Master of the House. The kingdom of heaven is about who God the Father is and what He desires and what His holy will for us is.
After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. There is no discussion about what the laborers are supposed to do, the discussion is upon the reward the wages that they will receive. There is no discussion about how hard or how well the laborers must work, the master of the house just promises to pay what He owes.
Going out the third hour the master of the house saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. God the Father merely tells them to go out into the vineyard, and whatever is right He will pay. Again, there is no discussion upon how long they will work, what they will do in the vineyard, nothing about the laborers and their responsibilities. The focus of the kingdom of heaven is upon God the Father and what He does and what He promises.
Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and the eleventh hour, he did the same. He said to all of them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ Again, you see that the master of the house does not discuss what the laborers are to do, he just sends them out into the vineyard, but this time there isn’t any discussion upon wages, the workers just assume that he will pay, and so they go. The focus of the kingdom of heaven is faith in the promise of God. God is faithful, He will do what He says.
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.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Those who worked the least, those who were hired last, received what was promised to those who were hired first, those who had worked the most. Here we see that God the Father, the Master of the House is generous in what He pays. And when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, 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?’”
In His parable, Jesus teaches us how God deals with us in His kingdom. As newborn babies, we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. We are sent out to work in the vineyard, and the payment, the reward for this work, is getting to be where Jesus is, at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. And what must we do to receive this generous gift of God, given to us in Holy Baptism? Nothing. God the Father, the Master of the House, sends His Son Jesus, to do all the work for us, with His suffering and death on the cross. Jesus is the denarius, the days wages that are given to each and every one of us in our baptism, and He is enough. Jesus is more than enough. Jesus paid the price for our sin and the sins of the whole world with His holy precious blood and with His innocent, bitter suffering and death, and we get that payment every time we come to our Lord. When we are baptized, we get to receive payment when the sign of the cross is placed upon our forehead and our heart, marking us as those redeemed by Christ the crucified. When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we eat and drink of the work our Lord Jesus did for us. When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we get to taste and see the work Jesus did for us in His vineyard, we get to eat and drink of Jesus’ love for us, we get to eat and drink of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus suffered and died to accomplish for us. We are richly blessed. What God the Father pays us is more than enough, it is all we need. We need not be jealous of others for receiving the same thing, we should instead give thanks to God for His generosity. He richly blesses all of us. What we receive, because we are baptized and come to the Lord’s Supper is not because we have earned it, or worked for it, or deserved it, but because it is a generous gift of God the Father, the Master of the House. That is who He is. That is how it is in His kingdom. He is generous to a fault. Thanks be to God. Amen.