[Jesus said to the disciples:] “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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 the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus the Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Halloween is coming up. In our old neighborhood, Trick or Treating was a hit and miss affair. Some years we had lots of trick or treaters, and sometimes not so many. I always tried to have plenty of candy on hand so we don’t run out too early, but I didn’t want a bunch left over, either. We would start out giving each child two pieces. They were always happy with that and they thanked us and went on their way. If it ended up being a lean year, by 7:30 or so we would see that not so many trick or treaters were coming, the number of pieces gradually went up. At our house, those who came later generally got a way better deal. Thankfully, those who came earlier weren’t around to see the difference or there might be wailing and complaints like there was in today’s gospel parable.
But that is how grace works. Someone is always complaining that someone else got off too easy or got more than they deserved or something like that. But if it is not unfair in the world’s eyes, it might not be grace.
We have seen the perfect example, having Colton’s baptism today. Colton hasn’t done a single thing in his less than four months of life to earn his salvation. He is very cute, and he is adored by parents, grandparents and cousins, but he has also been exhausting, completely self-centered, not even aware that his parents have needs or a schedule or anything to do but take care of him. AND YET, he is a beloved child of God, just as his parents are. Just as his grandparents are. Just as you are. We are ALL as helpless as babies to bring about our own salvation. It is not about deserving. It is about God’s loving generosity. The kingdom of heaven is FILLED with those who didn’t do a thing to deserve it.
Some would say it is an outrage.
What kind of God would give salvation to just anybody? Even more to the point, who would want to be in the kind of kingdom where THOSE lazy bums could get in? If there were no taxes to pay. If there were no duties to perform, no laws to obey, no standards to live up to. How is THAT going to work out?
Our God is generous. We cannot even fathom any sense in God’s generosity. It seems only like nonsense to us.
There are no standards to live up to… that’s the thing. We are invited to follow Jesus NOT TO WIN OUR SALVATION, NOT TO EARN OUR PAY, but out of gratitude and love, hope and joy. So there IS a standard…our standard is gratitude and love. Our standard is generosity. Our standard is to make sure everyone has enough.
Because you see, that is what the landowner did. He paid everyone the daily wage, making sure everyone had enough for the day. Think of this: Every Sunday we pray: Give us this day our daily bread. It was Martin Luther in his Small Catechism that stated as we pray for our daily bread, we are also praying that God would give our neighbor theirs as well. But too many in this world don’t have access to daily bread or other necessities of life because the system is broken. And we are barely aware of how much need there is, even right here in our own community.
The trouble broke out in the parable when the workers who started work in the morning did the math and got expectations based on their own greed rather than the previous agreement about the wage. They were outraged when they learned they were getting the same as those who just worked one hour. This unfair treatment is a common theme in Jesus’s teaching, regardless of who is telling the story. Luke says it very clearly in the Prodigal Son story. The older brother starts to compare his steady work with his brother’s wasteful ways frittering away the family fortune and he gets mad when their father forgives the bonehead and throws a party for him! It is an outrage! John tells it in a different way, with the miracle of the water turned to wine in the wedding at Cana. Weddings in those days were several days of feasting and drinking. When the wine ran out and Jesus made more, the servers took it for the steward to taste. The steward proclaimed: “Why have you kept the best wine until now?” or in other words, “Why would you waste this good wine on all these already drunk people who won’t appreciate it?” Outrageous! Who says God even expects us to appreciate the gift of grace? Colton didn’t. He probably doesn’t even remember it now, 20 minutes later.
There is a saying, I don’t know where it comes from, but it goes like this: “The only reason to look in someone else’s bowl is to make sure they have enough.” THAT is what this parable is about. In the kingdom of heaven love is the operative power. There is no need for comparison or competition.
Now, I will admit, I have not represented one little part of this parable quite accurately. I wanted to emphasize grace so much you couldn’t miss it. I want you to know this parable is about grace FOR YOU. The point is God’s generosity, not the fitness or work ethic of the workers. There is nothing you can do to earn a place in the kingdom. AND YET… the landowner didn’t just hire anyone and everyone off the highways and byways. (That story is coming in 3 weeks or so with a different point.) In THIS story, however, the landowner hired those who came to the marketplace. They made themselves available for hire.
The important thing to remember is, this did not make them worthy of working in the kingdom of heaven, just available to it. We will not get the benefit of being in the kingdom of heaven if we don’t make ourselves available to it. It is continually offered to us. So it isn’t about our deserving, but it is answering the call. And yet, everyone who came to the marketplace was hired. No one, not one, turned down the offer of employment. All who give themselves to the kingdom of heaven to work will reap the benefits. It is a joy and a privilege to be in the kingdom of heaven at the invitation of the landowner. It may sound like a contradiction to the casual listener, but it is a nuance that is worth spending time on. I hope you will remember… you are loved, because you are a child of God. Just be yourself. You don’t have to be something you are not. You cannot be other than who God made you. You are called because you are a child of God, not because of any of your talents. It is radical. It is outrageous to our sense of justice, but our justice is law. This is gospel. This good news sets us free to give ourselves to God and to give ourselves to our neighbor.
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.