Rev. Todd Peperkorn Holy Cross Lutheran Church Rocklin, California Pentecost 14 (Proper 20A) September 18, 2011 Matthew 20:1-16
TITLE: “On the Unfairness of God”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is taken from the Gospel from St. Matthew chapter twenty: “…and the last will be first and the first will be last”.
One of the most basic rules of any playground is that the games must be fair. The rules must be fair. The bases have to be the exact same distance. It must all be exactly fair in every way. The rise of labor unions follows the same basic principle. Everything that happens in the workplace must be fair. There can be no cronysism or playing favorites. If you work for the company, you get what you put in. So many years with such-and-such performance ratings equals this pay. It is a formula. It is simple and clear. Well, at least it’s supposed to be.
So you can imagine what a labor boss would think about today’s parable. The master of the vineyard invites men in to work at all hours of the day. They come in morning, noon, afternon, and right before closing time. They each work as they have been given time and talent to do. And the master of the house pays them all the exact same thing.
You can almost hear the objections of the men who worked since the break of day. “It’s not fair! We should get more than those lazy slobs who only worked an hour! We should get what is coming to us!”
Have you been there? Have you ever felt like others were sliding off easy, while you were doing all the work? We act this way at home and at work, on the playground and in school. Like Cain being jealous of Abel or Leah being jealous of Rachel, it is always oh so easy to look at our lives and to believe that there are others who have it so much easier than us. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right.
Of course, this is true after a fashion. As we muddle around in our measuring, it is easy to find someone who hasn’t had as many sicknesses or heartaches. They haven’t lost their job. They don’t have these health problems. They aren’t married to him.
Our self-righteousness really knows no bounds. Look at what I do for the church! Look at what I do at home for my family! Look at what I do for my work, for my friends, for my school! Look at me, look at me, look at me!
Our Lord, of course, has a different perspective. Isaiah reminds us of this when he says,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
You and I compare and contrast and highlight and figure and schedule and determine the pecking order and measure. God, other the other hand, gives of His generousity. This is why it is so hard for us to figure Him out. He gives when we think He should take, and He takes away when we feel like He should give. How frustrating it is!
The strange thing, though, is that despite God’s generosity, you and I continue to want to live under the Law. We want to measure, because we still believe, somehow, that if we measure ourselves against others, we will come out ahead in the end. Maybe you’ve heard the old joke: when running away from a bear, you don’t have to run faster than the bear; you just have to run faster than the guy next to you.
That is exactly how we want to run our spirituality and faith. I don’t have to be perfect; I just have to be better off than the next guy. I may not be a Mother Theresa, but I am way better than them!
The problem with our natural approach here is that we are using the wrong measuring stick. We want to measure ourselves against each other. But God doesn’t care how you stack up against your neighbor. The measuring stick is the Law. It doesn’t bend. It’s measuring is simple and clear: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it”(James 2:10). St. Paul also reminds us of this when he says, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).
So what is the point our Lord wants to make in this parable? The point is beautifully simple. God gives us our “wages” not on the basis of our merits and labor, but out of His generosity. Give gives from Himself, He does not reward based on our behavior or lack of it. This is why we pray in the collect for the day,
Lord God, heavenly Father, since we cannot stand before You relying on anything we have done, help us trust in Your abiding grace and live according to Your Word…(A78)
Today God gives you His mercy. He rewards you with the fruit from His vineyard, which is Jesus Christ. Our Lord, after all, says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
God frees you today to live in Him and trust in His mercy. Life your life as free children of God, and serve your neighbor. You do not do this because you must, and certainly not because it is fair. Just the opposite. You do these things because God is generous. He gives you all things. As St. Paul says, *”I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” * (Philippians 4:13)
Live this day as free children of God. Don’t measure yourself against the good deeds of others. In fact, don’t measure yourself at all! Look to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Come, eat and drink from the fruit of the sacred vineyard. Come and live in Him.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.