September 24, 2023
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who offers us what we need
rather than what we deserve Amen.
We talk about grace a lot as Lutherans,
how we’re saved by grace through faith
and this is not our own doing
but a gift from God.
We have grace as part of our mission statement:
“Making Christ known to all through grace”
We urge one another to offer grace to our neighbors and to ourselves,
and this all sounds really good
until we run into an example of grace in life
that just hits us the wrong way
whether it’s because we don’t think the recipient deserves it
or someone ends up with more than ourselves
and then we are quick to cry ‘that’s not fair!’
and it isn’t,
grace at its heart is not fair,
because it is about offering someone what they need
rather than what they deserve.
Jesus illustrates this with his parable for the week,
starting out “the kingdom of heaven is like…”
and proceeds to tell a story of a landowner
who goes out early in the morning
and hires laborers to work in his vineyard,
he offers them a job at the usual daily wage,
which they agree to
and go and get to work.
Throughout the rest of the day
at various intervals
the landowner goes back into the market
and hires those gathered looking for work,
promising to pay them what is fair,
even making a last hire one hour before the end of the day.
At the end of the day
everyone is paid the same wage
and those who started first grumble
because having worked longer
they think they should be paid more,
“But [the landowner] 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?”
Yes, yes they are envious
because the landowner is generous,
and sure when they heard the landowner
promise to pay those hired later what was fair,
it was a quick leap to think
that it would be less pay for less work,
and when they saw those hired later
being paid more than what they thought they should be paid
it was a quick leap to think that they would,
get paid more than they initially agreed upon
because they worked more than the others,
and so of course when their expectations
based on their own self-interested calculations
are dashed by reality they grumble,
even though the landowner stuck to their original agreement.
It’s still not fair they grumble,
and I can imagine the landowner responding to them,
‘yes, well, you know what is also not fair?
That those workers I hired at 9 o’clock
were just a little bit late to the market place
and no one hired them for three hours,
and those who I hired at noon,
is it fair that they had to take care of a sick child in the morning
and couldn’t get away before then?
Or those I hired at 3,
is it fair that they looked suspicious to a Roman patrol
and spent most of the day in interrogation
before they were released,
or what about those I hired at 5
who had traveled from town to town
looking for work
and even at the end of the day
were still trying and yet unhired?
Don’t they have the same need of a daily wage as you
who were able to be in the market at 6 in the morning?
So why would you grumble when,
I who am able to afford it,
choose to meet their needs?
The landowner has chosen to live generously,
acting as a steward of what he has
in such a way that he is able to use it to benefit the whole community
rather than just himself.
And when you’re used to living in a world
where interactions are based on self-interest,
this is disturbing
because it turns the world upside down.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like…
Jesus tells his disciples.
Matthew calling it the Kingdom of heaven,
while other gospel writers refer to it as the kingdom of God
makes it a bit confusing,
we tend to associate heaven or even the kingdom of God with the afterlife,
but if that were the case
then why would it be good news
to proclaim the kingdom of heaven has come near?
It is good news because it marks the inbreaking of God’s ways
into the ways of the world,
right here and now
this is what we pray for when we pray
“your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
we are praying for the world to be turned upside down.
Jesus is calling us to start living the way of God right now,
to look at the world through the eyes of God,
who sees a beloved creation that is out of balance,
where some have more than they need
and some have not enough.
This is not the manna way,
remember that first object lesson
that God taught the Israelites in the wilderness,
everyone was provided with what they needed each day,
those who didn’t collect enough still had what they needed,
those who collected more than they needed
found the excess rotted away so as not to be stockpiled.
This was a lesson they were to continue living
even after they entered the promised land.
This way of life
has been the way of God from the very beginning
and continued all the way through Christ.
Who came and lived and died and lived again
because it was what we needed,
not because we deserved it.
as the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 130 “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.”
God has already given us what we needed
rather than what we deserved,
we too are to live that out with others
to live the reality of God’s kingdom in all areas of our lives,
and this means that if we have more than we need,
it is up to us to make sure it is used to meet the needs of others.
In other words we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
it’s not going to be fair,
because grace isn’t fair. Thanks be to God. Amen