Sermon Library

Sermon Library

Duration:17 mins 20 secs

Growing out of Jill Duffield’s visit with us at the end of January and her theme “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” this month I have encouraged us to think about our neighbors. We know that Christ commanded us to love our neighbors, but who are the people in our neighborhood that we are to love?

I encouraged us to begin by getting to know the children in our church and neighborhood. Then I suggested that we find others in our neighborhood that are proclaiming and living the resurrection, for that is where we find the church alive and at work. Now, if I am honest, I will admit that encouraging us to love the children and the church in our neighborhood are both pretty safe requests. Who doesn’t love kids and the church?

But today is the final sermon in this short series. And our text from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, verses 1-16 pushes us toward some new and potentially uncomfortable neighbors. So let us hear this Word of God.

1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went.

5 When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. 6 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?' 7 They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.'

8 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.' 9 When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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 the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like this parable very much. It cuts a little too deep for me. I would have been much happier if Jesus had told the parable like this instead:

There once was a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. He found some and agreed to pay them the normal daily wage. It wasn’t a lot, but it would be enough to feed their family for one day. If they worked hard, maybe the landowner would hire them again tomorrow. And so off the workers went.

About nine o’clock the landowner went back to the marketplace and saw more laborers standing idle. He told them, “You also go into the vineyard and I will pay you whatever is right and just.” And so they went. He did the same thing at noon, at three o’clock, and even at five o’clock. With every group he made the same oral contract, “You go into the vineyard and I will pay you whatever is right and just.”

When evening came, the landowner called the laborers and began to pay them. To the first group he had hired he gave the normal daily wage and sent them on their way. To the group that began at nine, he did the same, as well as with the group from noon and the one from three. After paying them, he sent them all on their way. When only the last group of laborers remained, the landowner also gave them a full day’s wage. They protested saying, “But we worked only an hour.”

The landowner replied, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Even though you worked just an hour, is your family not as hungry as the families of those who worked all day?” And so the final labors went away rejoicing at the goodness of the landowner and the workers hired first were none the wiser.

Now isn’t that a much better parable? It’s a parable celebrating the generosity of God. For this generous landowner returned to the marketplace time and time again to hire day laborers who worked by the day and were paid by the day. If they didn’t work one day, they and their families didn’t eat that night. So if Jesus had told my parable, we could spend the rest of our time this morning talking about how wonderful it was that the landowner continued to hire these laborers all day.

And then we could celebrate the landowner once again as he pays the first workers what is fair, a full day’s wage. The landowner is a just man and honors his contract with them. But then he goes on to pay the same amount to those who work even part of the day. In addition to being just, this landowner is generous to give the laborers what they need even though they have not technically earned it! That’s called “grace” – getting not what we deserve but what is good for us. Because of grace, because of the landowner’s goodness, all the families will eat, not eat well, but all will eat this night.

But that is not the parable that Jesus told. Certainly the elements of the landowner’s generosity, justice, and grace are there. The troubling part of the parable is not that God is generous and gracious. No, the troubling part of Jesus’ parable comes at the end when the landowner starts paying the workers.

It almost feels like a set-up, doesn’t it? The landowner says, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” The landowner seems to want those who worked in the vineyard all day to see what he’s about to do. So those that began working last, at five o’clock, were paid first and they got a full day’s wage. Finally, when those who were hired first and who had worked the longest came to get their money, they were also paid the usual daily wage. Remember, the landowner was just - he honored the contract.

But seeing what the others received, these first workers expected more. If the landowner was generous to the others shouldn’t they expect him to give them a little bonus for working all day? They had agreed to work for the daily wage, but now they felt cheated. Hadn’t they earned more? So they grumbled against the landowner, “These last worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have born the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” It’s just not fair.

Do see the real issue here? It’s not that laborers have a problem with the landowner being generous. No, they loved it as they watched those who only worked an hour receive a full day’s wage. What a great, generous, and gracious thing to do, especially for day laborers who are so often overlooked by the powerful and wealthy of society. So I think it’s safe to assume, that if these laborers who worked all day had indeed received a bonus out of the landowner’s generosity then they would have rushed home rejoicing. Everybody loves grace!

Yes everybody loves grace … but only when it applies to us. Here we have a parable in which no one has been cheated, no one denied, and no one given less than what was agreed upon. Justice has been done, but yet it all feels so unfair. Why did they get just as much as we did when we worked so much harder for it? Why should they be rewarded for standing around the marketplace all day while we broke our backs picking grapes in the vineyard? “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.” I feel myself wanting to join in and protest the landowner’s action right along with these laborers.

And yet, the laborer’s critique, but you have made them equal to us, is exactly the point. It is why we need to hear Jesus’ parable instead of the one I preferred. Because, my friends, consciously or unconsciously we presume that we are fundamentally different from our neighbors. We believe that we are indeed better than our neighbors and thus we deserve better. Perhaps it is because of the color of our skin. Perhaps it is the job we have or that we retired from. Maybe it is the clothes we wear or don’t wear. Maybe it is the street we live on vs. the streets we would not be caught dead on. Perhaps it is the church we attend or the size of our bank accounts or how much money we give away. Or maybe it is the person we love and we cannot understand how someone else could love that person. Perhaps it is our political party or even our citizenship. But consciously or unconsciously, we all say, “What do you mean God that you have made them equal to us?”

Yes, everybody loves grace, as long as it applies to me. And we definitely do not love grace when it is granted to our neighbors who we deem to be unworthy of it. Yes, somehow we’ve missed the point of grace. It is why Jesus had to tell us his parable instead of mine. Pastor Tim Keller puts it this way:

If a person has grasped the meaning of God's grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn't live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God's grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn't care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn't understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.”

My friends, since we are confronted this morning with Jesus’ parable, there remains a choice for all of us. We can join those who declare that the world is unfair and it should be. We deserve more and there are others who are receiving gifts and advantages that they did not earn or deserve. Yes, we can focus on that makes us different and pulls us apart.

Or we can seek to rejoice in the grace and the generosity of God. In a piece this week, New York Times columnist David Brooks called those who make this choice, “weavers of the social fabric.” He writes:

Many … do their weaving in the course of everyday life — because that’s what neighbors do. One lady in Florida said she doesn’t have time to volunteer, but that’s because she spends 40 hours a week looking out for local kids and visiting sick folks in the hospital. We go into neighborhoods and ask, “Who is trusted here?” In one neighborhood it was the guy who collects the fees at the parking garage. …

Whether they live in red or blue America, they often use the same terms and embody the same values — deep hospitality, showing up for people and keep showing up. They are somewheres, not anywheres — firmly planted in their local community. …

But the trait that leaps out above all others is “radical mutuality”: We are all completely equal, regardless of where society ranks us. “I am broken; I need others to survive,” an afterschool program leader in Houston told us. “We don’t do things for people. We don’t do things to people. We do things with people,” said a woman who builds community for teenagers in New Orleans. …

Their example has shown me that we don’t just have a sociological problem; we have a moral problem. We all create a shared moral ecology through the daily decisions of our lives. When we stereotype, abuse, impugn motives and lie about each other, we’ve ripped the social fabric and encouraged more ugliness. When we love across boundaries, listen patiently, see deeply and make someone feel known, we’ve woven it and reinforced generosity. As Charles Péguy said, “The revolution is moral or not at all.”

My friends, God acts with grace. Will we just be mad about it? Or can we, with our neighbors, weave that grace into justice for all our fellow laborers in the vineyard?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

Latest Sermons