Monday, February 6, 2012

Septuagesima, He Gives

Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)
"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."

“You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.”
Well if you think about it was work you have the wrong attitude about it. The saying is true of more than a few things in life, I suppose. We have a hard time thinking professional football is work, then we are amazed at the pettiness that comes about in signing contracts and negotiations for teams. At times people become so disgusted with professional sports they stop watching them. When the joy is lost for the players, the joy is lost for the fans. If you are thinking about it as work, you have the wrong attitude. Attitude adjustments, though, can be a hard thing to come by. Rather easy after convincing someone they want it. But getting a person to that point… It isn’t as easy as telling them to adjust their attitude about it. The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…. Those he hired early in the morning regarded it as work, the denarius they were promised was a denarius earned, not a denarius given. The master of the house has different ideas when it comes to the end of the day. According to him, he is giving. He gives to the last hired the same as he gives to the first hired. He gives. If they thought of it was work all day, then it is all the more true that he is giving them the denarius.
See it is only the first crew that negotiates with him. I think most of us can sympathize with them a bit. They got up early, went out to find work. They are the eager beavers we celebrate so much, the industrious ants, getting ready for the lean months. The others slept in, who knows why. Perhaps they didn’t think of it as work… They got up a bit later and strolled over to the market place, where they stood around leisurely looking for work, more likely more concerned with talking with friends drinking coffee and harassing the waitress in a friendly manner as most men are wont to do. What happens next is extraordinary. The master looks at them and says, go work in my vineyard and what ever is right I will give you. No negotiations. These men don’t have a clue what they are going to get at the end of the day. The more I think about this scenario the more ridiculous it seems. I can’t get my own son to mow the lawn with such an arrangement. Most of us don’t trust our greedy little selves to hire someone with this arrangement. We want to know up front that they will be satisfied with the money we offer them. We can imagine someone just handing them all a denarius, for the mere fact that one or two of them has a sign disingenuously implying they will work for food. More than we can imagine someone hiring them without telling them what he will pay.
Two things strike me about this. One is that the master of the house is known for generosity. 2. The workers have extraordinary trust in this man. Well that is why this describes the kingdom of heaven. God is indeed generous, and the trust we have in him is itself quite extraordinary, itself is a supernatural gift of God, something we don’t come by naturally. The end of this parable is the climax. Those hired first are indignant. They expected more than the first. They had worked longer. But they got what they had negotiated for. And even this the owner thinks is quite generous. They thought it was work. They went about it as work. The others were just happy to be there, working for sure, but perhaps not thinking about it as work. Attitude can make all the difference. You get the impression that those hired later were perhaps trying to do a favor for an old friend.
The attitude you bring to a job has an effect on everything. As an old man once told me, If you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life. I have to say he was right. As a kid this didn’t strike me as a job I wanted. But my biggest problem in life right now is balancing it out, because I love it so much. I get up in the morning and go to the gym to swim, and in the back of my head I’m thinking I have to get to work. Morning devotions and study wait for me. And if I don’t get those in, I don’t feel like much has been done. The first thing I want to do is thank God for you all. Have I ever told you I love this little congregation? Sometimes I get my priorities a bit confused. The other day at the gym a few Mormons wanted to talk to me, and I was a bit torn, because the time widdled away as I parried back and forth with them concerning the nature of God and revelation. In the back of my mind I still wanted to come pray and study. I started working on Ecclesiastes as part of my devotional time, I translate it. My favorite book, and I can’t wait to get to it. And I think here are these people in the middle of Utah, and they pay me to study God’s word, they must be the salt of the earth. And why? So I can share a few insights with them here and there, they must think it’s worth more than gold. Oh, and because they must particularly love having a poor wretch like me around to share the good news with their neighbors lounging about in the sauna at the gym. . . They must really enjoy seeing new people brought into the work of the vineyard. They must enjoy that as much as I do, maybe even more. Yeah, I thank God for you.
Of course, I have my days. I suppose we all do. That is our problem, we’re never really entirely like those last people being hired. Even if we are hired at the 11th hour, which thanks to you, I have been privileged to see a few times in my ministry here, people on their deathbed repenting of sin, and receiving forgiveness. We are rarely quite like the first group hired either. We fear and love God as the Catechism tells us we should. We perhaps know we ought to do it out of love and love alone, because we trust in him above all things, generous as he is with us sinners. But though we be saints with denarius in hand, we are still sinners are we not? And as sinners we fear God as we should. Sometimes feeling compelled to do his will much more from the fear of consequences for not doing them, than we are out of love, not fearing the consequences of following them. Yeah, we break the commandments out of fear too. Misplaced fear. We fear friends and family, banks and a bad credit rating, more than we fear God. So we go along with shameful activities for fear of rejection. God knows our fear. He knows our love. Any fear or Love that surpasses our fear or love for him ends in us breaking the commandments. So like the first hired, we sometimes do God’s will for the wrong reasons. It taints what we do with sin. When we do it for fear and not for joy, not for love, it becomes a drag. Our work is shoddy, and slow, and it fails to communicate the love of God to those we live around. And yet, God knows this about us, and hires us anyway. despite our failures, neglectfulness, despite our sinfulness, he tells us go into my vineyard and whatever is right I will give to you. Give. Yes, and he does give. He gives us his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him would not parish but have eternal life. He places us in his vineyard to do his work, because his Son has already done it for us. Yes, he gives. He gives, precisely because we are incapable of earning it. Sinners as we are, we are too incompetent to really do the work, to actually do anything good, to do the work well. So he gives, he gives to you as he gave to the first.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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