Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Some worked all day. Some, only an hour. But those who receive their wages receive the same wage.
Were we in the back of the line, we’d’ve hated this.
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them [the wage], beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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’” (Matthew 20:8-12).
The workers who put in the most work are paid the same wage as those whose labor was only momentary and probably insignificant.
Like when I showed up to help clean up Christmas decorations when everything was already put away. I did a good job admiring all the hard work everyone did, but that’s about it.
We all agree that it’s unfair and unhelpful when a person who can work refuses to and still receives pay.
It’s unfair when you work long hours and put in effort, and one who neither works nor tries still receives pay equal to your own. That it’s equal pay for less work makes it unequal pay.
No business can run that way—not for long.
But Jesus tells this parable to describe, not this world, and business as we know it, but the reign of God, His Kingdom.
The contrast in today’s Gospel lesson is not between lifetime-Christians and deathbed-Christians, those who’ve borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat and those whose work was only a moment.
If that’s what this is about, that would imply that lifetime-Christians, when they go to heaven, get what they earn and deserve.
And only deathbed-Christians receive the wage of Heaven as a gift from God by love and grace.
And that’s not true at all.
We are saved by grace through faith in Christ our Lord, not by works. And this, itself, is a gift from God, not a paycheck given out of contractual requirement (cf. Eph. 2:8ff).
Grace is undeserved.
For a moment, though, consider if each Christian received exactly what they earned.
The master of the vineyard replies to the grumbling day-laborers, “Take what belongs to you and go” (Matthew 20:14). And could there be a more frightening statement from the Creator of All Things to that which He created?
What belongs to you? And where can you go that is not where and what God has Himself created?
We are stewards, not creators.
Workers of the vineyard. Heirs, not owners.
The contract between you and God isn’t written in your hand but God’s, the ink isn’t from your pen but from the blood of Jesus.
The fact is, if today’s Gospel lesson were a contrast between lifetime-Christians and deathbed-Christians, you would hate God, because He does what we don’t do. He treats the worst like the best: ”[He] shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11).
Don’t think of yourself as one of the all-day-laborers.
You’re not one of them. That’s not the point.
To them, remember, the master of the vineyard says “Take what belongs to you and go.” That’s justice. That’s not grace.
Justice is getting what you’ve earned, what you deserve. But grace, mercy, and the peace of God that is yours in Christ is all gift.
Grace is undeserved.
All Christians are deathbed-Christians, whose work is momentary, whose whole life is but an hour in God’s day, who receive the wage of everlasting life out of the master of the vineyard’s overabundant generosity.
When your body is raised from death, and you stand for judgment before Christ, what puts Heaven into your possession isn’t the hours of your Christian service but the hour and service of Christ.
Justice would require your death.
But grace puts the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet.
You don’t deserve it. That’s grace.
You couldn’t earn it. That’s a gift.
You couldn’t win it. Our was accomplished in the hour of Christ’s death, confirmed in the hour of His resurrection, and distributed to you in this hour by the Word proclaimed, poured, and given.
In the small hour of our lives, we can accomplish so little and yet make endless lists of things to do.
By God’s grace, even in our small hour, God accomplishes so much.
We don’t deserve it. But God desires it.
Thus says the Lord through Peter, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God, in His grace, always desires repentance and faith so that you believe and live.
We don’t deserve it.
God desires it.
And He accomplishes it.
The one-hour workers receive the wage of life everlasting, by the grace of God.
The same is true for you.
Salvation is God’s work, accomplished and given out of grace.
But the workers who received their wages never stopped working. In a manner of speaking, they ran with endurance the race that was set before them (cf. Heb. 12:1).
In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul warns us: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things…to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
So, we run the race—we live our lives—trusting God and receiving from Him all that we need for this body and life.
We don’t work so that He’ll take care of us.
He is our Heavenly Father, loving and gracious. He takes care of us not because of our merit but only out His Fatherly goodness.
We work in thanks to Him and in service to those who are in need.
Our Lord chooses to give, even to us, the least of workers, what is promised to the first.
Today, in the Church Year, is called Septuagesima. It means “Seventy Days.” We’re about seventy days away from Easter.
Next week is Sexagesima, “Sixty Days.” And after that is Quinquagesima, “Fifty Days.”
During the “Gesima Sundays,” we rejoice in the solas of the Reformation.
Today, Sola gratia. By grace alone are we saved.
Some work their whole lives.
Some work only for an hour.
All believers are deathbed Christians made alive by God.
“Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails” (Psalm 136:1).
God’s grace never fails.
Let us pray:
“By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless; My soul, believe and doubt it not. Why stagger at this word of promise? Has Scripture ever falsehood taught? No! Then this word must true remain: By grace you too will life obtain.
By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying; In Jesus’ promise I rejoice; For though I know my heart’s condition, I also know my Savior’s voice. My heart is glad, all grief has flown Since I am saved by grace alone” (LSB 566:1,6).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!