Septuagesima - February 5, 2023
Matthew 20:1-16] “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.”
It’s Not Too Late
“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” [Exodus 17:1-7]. They had no water in the wilderness - a serious issue. Yet God had parted the Red Sea in their presence and they walked across on dry ground. The people grumble and do no believe God will be good to them, though He had been so powerfully good to them at every step so far.
Though the water was out, it was not too late for God to help. He forgives their grumbling and is good to them at the right time. Moses strikes the Rock, and, from the cleft of the Rock, life-giving water flows.
Our Lord tells us a parable today about the first and the last. Some He called to labor in His vineyard from the very beginning of the day. They began at daybreak and bore the heat of the whole day until evening. The reward is the pay for a day’s labor, one denarius - “agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day.”
Others were called to labor in His vineyard at the third hour and the sixth hour and the ninth hour - 9am, Noon, and 3pm. With these He didn’t agree upon a set wage but said, “Whatever is right I will give you.” Whatever is right, whatever is just.
Now, at the eleventh hour of the day - 6pm - just about supper time - one hour before the work day ends, the Master of the vineyard goes out and calls more. He finds laborers standing idle - He says to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They say to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He says to them, “You go into the vineyard too.”
No one had hired them all day. These were the bottom of the barrel, the last to be picked. Unworthy of the labor to which they were called. Deemed unfit to be called by all the other masters out there. But this Master, which is our Lord, our Savior, calls them - “You go into the vineyard too.” It wasn’t too late for them.
It wasn’t too late to be called into the Lord’s vineyard - to be called to useful purpose - useful purpose for the Lord, though the world had no purpose for them. It wasn’t too late to have useful purpose in the Lord’s kingdom - and it wasn’t too late for reward.
“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.”
Though called in the last hour of what had been a long day for everyone else, they received the full reward of the day - a denarius. “Whatever is right I will give you.” Here, what is right and just in the Lord’s vineyard is His generosity.
When others grumbled at His generous reward to the unfit, the Master of the vineyard said, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Literally, in the Greek, He said, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”
In the eyes of too many of His people, the Lord’s gifts are seen as wages earned. “I’ve labored for the Lord my whole life - I’ve been in it with Him through all my days - I’m entitled to some goodness from Him.” And, conversely, we think, “I haven’t been good. I haven’t been a faithful laborer. I’ve done a lot of wrong and messed up a lot - He cannot be generous to me. He can’t do me good.”
Both of those ways of thinking are lies of the devil all around and insult God. Can the Lord not do what He wants with what is His? His will is to be generous and forgiving to you. His will is to be abundantly good to you, not because you’ve earned a shred of it, but only out of His generosity.
We ought never to deny the Lord the right to be good, merciful, and forgiving to us and to our neighbor. He doesn’t desire to deal with you as a wage earner but as His child to whom He is generous, not based on merit, but based on His merciful goodness. “Whatever is right I will give you.” He has the right to be generous.
Scripture warns us not to lose faith as His people so often did in their wilderness wanderings. Though you’ve been caught grumbling at times, it’s not too late to repent each day - daily repentance. Though the water has run out - you are dried up - it’s not too late for the Lord to refresh you.
And though the labor to which you are called is so over your head, so great - and you are so unfit for it - it is not too late to do those things which the Lord has called you to do in life, as long as you are still in this life, and for the Lord to generously reward it as if you’ve been laboring all day.
What am I saying? You are called to labor - not only in and for this House - but also to bring Christ to your house - to those around you or in your family or in your reach of influence and care.
Though, perhaps you’ve labored all day and suffered the scorching heat - or, though, perhaps, you have neglected this work and have put it off or have been too intimidated by it - nevertheless, today, it is not too late to enter the Lord’s labor. As long as it’s still called ‘today’, it’s not too late to try, trusting in the Lord’s ability.
And it’s not too late for the Lord to reward your feeble words and late-coming prayers with His full generosity of the whole day. He is generous and good and will do His good will.
To His people running out of water in the wilderness, God gave that Rock out which life-giving water flowed when it was struck by God’s Law-giver, Moses. On the cross, Jesus, your Rock, was stricken for you. He, the innocent one, was stricken by the curse of the Law for your sins in your place - thereby setting you free, forgiven.
God remembers your sin no more. He doesn’t see it. God who knows all chooses to forget. It’s washed away in the blood of Jesus’ perfectly-atoning sacrifice.
From the cleft of your true Rock, Christ - from His wounds - flows the Life-giving waters of His Holy Spirit who refreshes you and is your Giver-of-Life throughout the heat of the whole, hard day of life - and at the last hour of life. He is yours.
Therefore, don’t fall for the devilish lie that God won’t be good to you or to your unfit neighbor. Instead, expect, in faith, the fullness of His generosity for soul and body - for you, and for those for whom you pray and labor. Amen.