The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 20:1-16

 

IT SEEMS AS IF WITH EVERY NEWSPAPER ARTICLE OR NEWS CAST WE HEAR STORIES OR COMPLAINTS ABOUT FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE. THERE HAVE BEEN MARCHES FOR A FAIR MINIMUM WAGE, AND PROTESTS ABOUT UNFAIR TREATMENT OF ONE GROUP OR ANOTHER, AND IT IS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO SORT OUT JUST WHAT WOULD BE FAIR OR JUST. WE LEARN TO BE CONCERNED WITH FAIRNESS FROM A VERY EARLY AGE. JUST ASK ANYONE WHO HAS HAD TWO OR MORE CHILDREN HOW SOON THEIR KIDS BECOME OBSESSED WITH WHAT IS FAIR. EVEN THE PROCESS OF SLICING CAKE HAS TO BE DONE WITH SCIENTIFIC ATTENTION TO DETAIL SO THAT ONE KID DOESN’T GET LESS THAN THE OTHER. WE CARRY THIS ATTITUDE INTO OUR ADULT LIVES, AND THE DEMAND FOR EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK SEEMS TO BE NOTHING LESS THAN A TRUISM FOR THE CONCEPT OF FAIRNESS. THIS PARABLE OF JESUS STANDS THE CONCEPT OF FAIRNESS ON ITS HEAD, AND WOULD GIVE PROBLEMS TO ANY CEO OR LABOR UNION REP. FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE SEEM TO BE TOTALLY LACKING IN THIS PARABLE.

THE PARABLE IS RECORDED IN MATTHEW BETWEEN PETER’S QUESTION OF WHAT THOSE WHO HAVE LEFT EVERYTHING TO FOLLOW JESUS CAN EXPECT AS THEIR REWARD AND THE MOTHER OF JAMES AND JOHN REQUESTING PLACES OF HONOR IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN FOR HER SONS. IN BOTH CASES, THOSE CONCERNED THINK THEY HAVE EARNED SOME SORT OF REWARD FOR WHAT THEY HAVE DONE; SURELY, SINCE THEY HAVE FOLLOWED JESUS FROM THE BEGINNING, AND ARE HIS CLOSEST DISCIPLES, THEIR REWARD SHOULD BE GREATER THAN THAT OF THOSE OUTSIDE OF THE INNER CIRCLE. SO JESUS TOLD THEM THIS STORY OF WHAT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS REALLY LIKE. AS USUAL, HE USED FAMILIAR EXAMPLES FROM DAILY LIFE TO MAKE HIS POINT.

A LANDOWNER GOING OUT AT SUNRISE TO HIRE DAY LABORERS WAS COMMON. HE HIRES THE FIRST GROUP, AND THEY AGREE TO WORK THE DAY FOR THE USUSAL DAILY WAGE. HE GOES OUT AGAIN AT 9 O’CLOCK, FINDS MORE MEN IDLE IN THE MARKET PLACE, AND HIRES THEM AS WELL, SAYING HE WILL PAY THEM WHATEVER IS RIGHT. AGAIN, AT NOON AND AT 3 O’CLOCK, HE DOES THE SAME, SAYING HE WILL PAY THEM WHATEVER IS RIGHT. FINALLY, AT ALMOST THE END OF THE WORK DAY AT 5 O’CLOCK, HE FINDS SOME MORE MEN SITTING IDLE BECAUSE NO ONE HIRED THEM, AND SENDS THEM INTO THE VINEYARD TO WORK THE LAST HOUR OF THE DAY, AGAIN SAYING HE WILL PAY THEM WHATEVER IS RIGHT. WHEN THE MANAGER BEGAN TO HAND OUT THE PAY, PAYING THE LAST GROUP FIRST WITH A FULL DAYS WAGE, I CAN IMAGINE THE OTHER GROUPS, ESPECIALLY THE FIRST, EXPECTED A BONUS TO THE DAILY WAGE; SINCE THEY WORKED MORE, SURELY THEY WOULD GET MORE. NOT SO; THEY ALL GOT THE STANDARD DAILY WAGE. NOW THE ISSUES OF FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE RAISED THEIR ENVIOUS HEADS, AND THE FIRST GROUP GRUMBLED IN THE FACE OF THE LANDOWNER CLAIMING HE WAS UNFAIR TO MAKE THE ONES WHO WORKED LESS EQUAL TO THOSE WHO WORKED MORE. TO WHICH THE LANDOWNER REPLIED BY REMINDING THEM WHAT THEY HAD AGREED TO, AND TELLING THEM TO TAKE THEIR PAY AND GO. “AM I NOT ALLOWED TO DO WHAT I CHOOSE WITH WHAT BELONGS TO ME?” HE ASKED. HE SAID, IN THE GREEK, “IS YOUR EYE EVIL BECAUSE I AM GOOD?” THUS, JESUS SAID, “THE LAST WILL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST WILL BE LAST.”

THE PARABLE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH FAIRNESS OR JUSTICE, BUT IS ALL ABOUT THE GENEROUS GRACE OF THE LANDOWNER, AND CASTS DOWN THE IDEA THAT GOD’S GRACE CAN BE EARNED. THE PARABLE IS ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD, NOT ECONOMIC JUSTICE OR FAIR LABOR PRACTICES; IT IS ABOUT GOD’S GRACE, WHICH HE LOVINGLY GRANTS TO ALL WHO HE CALLS TO COME TO LABOR IN HIS VINYARD. THE VINYARD HAD LONG BEEN A METAPHOR FOR ISRAEL OF GOD TENDING TO HIS PEOPLE, AND NOW JESUS USES IT IN THE SAME WAY FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HE IS BRINGING TO THE WORLD. IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW LONG WE HAVE LABORED IN THE KINGDOM, OR HOW BRIEFLY; THE GIFT IS THE SAME, AND IT COMES FROM THE GOODNESS OF GOD AND NOT OUR WORK.

OUTSIDE OF THE PARABLE, IT HAD A VERY POTENT MESSAGE FOR THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM MATTHEW WROTE HIS GOSPEL. REMEMBER, IT WAS WRITTEN IN HEBREW FOR THE HEBREW CHRISTIANS OF THE FIRST CENTURY WHO WERE CONCERNED ABOUT THE INFLUX OF ALL THOSE GENTILES PROFESSING FAITH IN JESUS. THEY WERE THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE OF GOD, THEY HAD THE LAW OF GOD, AND THEY WERE THE FIRST TO RESPOND TO THE CALL OF JESUS AND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. NOW, THESE “JONNY COME LATELY” UNCIRCUMCIZED GENTILES WERE FILLING UP THE SYNAGOGUES AND IT JUST WASN’T FAIR THAT THEY SHOULD BE EQUAL TO THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF ABRAHAM. IT’S NOT ABOUT FAIRNESS, THE PARABLE TELLS THEM, THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS ALL ABOUT GRACE AND MERCY, THANK GOD, BECAUSE YOU REALLY DO NOT WANT JUSTICE FROM GOD; APART FROM THOSE WHO TRUST IN JESUS, NO ONE IS JUST IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. NO ONE DESERVES THE GRACE OF GOD, AND NO ONE CAN EARN THE GRACE OF GOD.

THERE IS AN OLD STORY TOLD ABOUT A MAN WHO DIED AND WENT TO HEAVEN. ST. PETER MET HIM AT THE PEARLY GATES AND ASKED TO EXAMINE HIS QUALIFICATIONS. “WE HAVE A POINT SYSTEM,” ST. PETER SAID, “AND ONLY THOSE WITH ENOUGH POINTS ARE ALLOW TO ENTER. “POINTS?” THE MAN EXCLAIMED, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.” ST. PETER EXPLAINED, “IT’S SIMPLE. WE DETERMINE HOW MANY POINTS YOU HAVE BY THE LIFE YOU’VE LIVED. WE REQUIRE 100 POINTS TO GET IN. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LIFE, AND I’LL ADD UP YOUR POINTS.”

THE MAN THOUGHT FOR A MOMENT AND SAID, “WELL, LET’S SEE. I WAS A FAITHFUL MEMBER OF MY CHURCH FOR FOURTY-SEVEN YEARS. I SERVED ON THE VESTRY THREE TIMES, AND TAUGHT SUNDAY SCHOOL.” ST. PETER SAID, “VERY GOOD. YOU GET ONE POINT.” THE MAN WAS SHOCKED, AND SAID, “WELL, I WAS A GOOD HUSBAND AND FATHER. I TITHED FAITHFULLY, AND CONTRIBUTED TO MANY CHARITIES. I HELPED TO FEED AND CLOTHED THE HOMELESS. I HELPED WITH VARIOUS CIVIC PROJECTS, AND SERVED ON QUITE A FEW COMMITTEES. DOESN’T THAT COUNT FOR ANYTHING?” ST. PETER SAID, “INDEED IT DOES. YOU GET ANOTHER POINT.” THE MAN WAS DISTRAUGHT, AND SAID, “I’LL NEVER MAKE IT. THE ONLY WAY I AM GOING TO GET IN IS BY THE GRACE OF GOD.” ST. PETER SMILED AND SAID, “THAT MY FRIEND IS ALL THE POINTS YOU WILL EVER NEED. WELCOME!”

WHATEVER WE DO, HOWEVER LONG WE LABOR IN THE VINEYARD, IT IS NEVER TO EARN OUR PLACE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD. WHAT WE DO IS ALWAYS IN RESPONSE TO THE LOVE AND GRACE THAT GOD HAS BESTOWED ON US THOUGH OUR SALVATON WHICH COMES SOLELY THROUGH OUR FAITH IN JESUS OUR LORD. IF WHAT WE DO IS OUR LOVING RESPONSE TO THE LOVE THAT GOD HAS SHOWN TO US, THEN OUR LABOR WILL NEVER BE WORK, BUT ALWAYS A JOYOUS SERVICE TO OUR GOD AND FATHER, EMPOWERED BY HIS HOLY SPIRIT, IN THE NAME OF HIS SON, JESUS OUR LORD. AMEN

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