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Septuagesima Sunday

[Read Matthew 20:1–16] “…...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?’…”

Angry Because God Is Good

“Do you begrudge my generosity?” – This, translated more literally, says, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” An evil eye is a jealous and begrudging eye – an angry eye. The workers were angry at the vineyard’s Master because the Master was good – he was generous. They were angry because their Master was good to those whom they deemed less deserving. At this, we remember Christ’s words, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” [Matthew 7:1]

Accountability. You might not believe in much, but you believe in “accountability”. These workers believed in it. It’s the most popular gospel of all – accountability. And some of you are the self-appointed accountability police. In that running dialogue in your mind – and even in your words – you so naturally assume that place of holding others accountable (friends, family, strangers). Some of you are guilty of being the self-appointed accountability police. And the rest of you hold them accountable for it.

Be honest – whoever you are – with accountability on your lips, it’s always the pot calling the kettle black. But worst of all is our sinful heart’s accusation against God - our accusation against our Lord Jesus. We grumble. We say it’s not right. We begrudge God’s generosity towards others. We get angry when God is good to those we deem undeserving.

The Master of the Vineyard gave one denarius – a full day’s wage – to those who had not worked a full day’s labor. Was it unfair? Or was it generous? The Master said, “Do not be angry that I am good – I rightly do what I want with what belongs to me, and I choose to be generous.”

God’s generosity – which is the generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ – was in not holding accountable, but instead forgiving. In Jesus, God did not hold you accountable. Instead, He forgave. (Yet, those who still dig in their heels as accountability police over their brothers and sisters may one day be held accountable – “For”, as Christ said, “with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” [Matt 7:2])

But God our Father has sent His Son into a world worthy of damnation not to condemn it but to be generous to it - “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” [John 3:17] Christ’s generosity is that He gave His life and shed His blood as an atonement for the sins – the debts, the shortfalls – of the world, of sinners, of the guilty, of those whom He could have held accountable. Instead of giving mankind his comeuppance, He gave mercy and died for man’s sin. Instead of giving you your comeuppance, He gave you mercy and died for your sins.

Just as God has not held you to accountability but has instead forgiven so many shortfalls and sins in you, so you also, stop holding others to accountability at their every turn for their every fault. Instead, forgive. Forgive. Be generous. Overlook sins. Overlook faults. Overlook their unworthy attributes and actions. Forgive and be generous as God, in Christ, has been generous to you.

Scripture says, in Psalm 130:3-4, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand. But with you there is forgiveness.” Do not keep a record of your fellow-servants timeclock of service and obedience to the Lord. Instead, give thanks that God is not keeping a record of sin.

Often this parable of the late-coming laborers is applied to what you might call “eleventh hour” Christians – people who come to faith in Christ, or who come to repentance, in their very last days or even last moments of life. And this is absolutely right. Death bed confessions and last-minute converts to Christ receive crowns and rewards in heaven equal to yours. This isn’t unfairness. You too receive all that God has promised you - but it’s God’s generosity to make the last first and to give gifts to the undeserving.

In its most immediate context, this parable was spoken by our Lord to the twelve disciples to warn them not to think too much of themselves. Many who come after them and who do less for kingdom than they did will receive equal rewards. The rewards of heaven are always and only gifts of God’s generosity to the undeserving. We should therefore never feel entitled to anything good from God and shouldn’t begrudge anything good given to our neighbor. Christ said elsewhere that even after we’ve done everything He commanded us (and who has?) we should still only call ourselves “unworthy servants” [Luke 17:10]. At best, we’ve only done what we were obligated to do – there’s no merit for a reward in that.

This parable of our Lord is, in fact, about our Lord’s willingness to call, accept, and reward those who are more undesirable and less able than others. That Master of the Vineyard in the parable, before He called the last laborers into the Vineyard at the eleventh hour (5pm, the last hour of work), asked them a question: The Master asked them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They answered back to Him, “Because no one has hired us.”

Those last-hour workers were standing and waiting to be hired all day because no one was willing to hire them. They were the laborers no one else wanted – the left-overs. Whatever their faults or imperfections were, we do not know. But we know that when no one else is willing to have them, Christ says to them, “You come into my Vineyard too.” [20:7]

Christ, the Lord of Heaven’s Kingdom, is willing to call in those whom the world and many righteous people would not have. Christ’s Church should be and is filled with many people who are incompetent, undesirable, and unliked in the world. Therefore Scripture says, “Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.” [Romans 12:16]

In short, brothers and sisters, do not live your life in the world or in your church as the self-appointed accountability judge over others. It is unChristian to do so. And do not be angry when God is good - do not begrudge His generosity toward sinners. Instead, rejoice together with them. Rejoice and give thanks that the Body and Blood of Christ given and shed on the Cross has blotted out the whole record sins - your sin and mine and our neighbor’s. Amen.

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