Thanksgiving – 2020 LSB #’s 892, 785, 895
Text – Matthew 20:10-12
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, & you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day & the scorching heat.’
BEARING THE BURDEN & THE HEAT
There are times in life when you have an awareness of something without really comprehending it. I saw it, but only in my peripheral vision. I saw it there, but wasn’t really comprehending what I saw. When I turned to look, at what my peripheral vision was seeing, then I realized what it was. In that moment it hid under the blanket that was lying on the floor.
So I ran upstairs looking for our cat. When I found him, I picked him, ran back downstairs & placed him facing the blanket. He made zero effort at all even to approach the blanket, but instantly spun 180 degrees – now facing into the downstairs bedroom.
From experience I have learned not to doubt our cat, so I too turned 180 degrees & saw him flying into the bedroom in hot pursuit. For a mere instant I saw the creature as it flashed under the bed & our cat flew under with it. Some of the furniture took a beating from our 18 pound feline, but he returned in about 30 seconds with the mouse.
There are times in life when you have an awareness of something without really comprehending it. Upon hearing this parable you may be experiencing one of those times. Isn’t there something in Jesus’ words that strike you as unfair? Here’s how the workers who were hired first responded:
‘These last worked only one hour, & you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day & the scorching heat.’ If you’ve had the opportunity to work outdoors for a full day in the blazing sun you can sympathize with these poor guys. If they had a union this would never fly – paying the guys with the least seniority just as much as the guys with the most seniority. This business owner is not treating the workers fairly & everyone knows it. And this is where the opening illustration comes into play. Do you remember the point of it?
There are times in life when you have an awareness of something without really comprehending it. When I first saw the mouse, I knew something was there, but I didn’t know what. I had to ‘tune in” & pay closer attention to figure out what it was that was bothering me.
What the owner does in the parable is not fair, but to learn from Jesus we need to ‘tune in’ & pay closer attention to figure out what it is that’s bothering us. If the story of this parable seems to you, in any way, to be unfair, then it’s your sin that is out there in your spiritual peripheral vision. Your own sinful nature is sneaking up on you! Are you tuning in?
Remember, this is Jesus talking to you through the parable, & it’s your sinful nature that is recognizing what Yahweh is doing as unfair. He is, this very moment, actively at work here on earth. In a general way God is weaving together the details of your own life, & in a specific way He is confronting you through the words of this evening’s service.
Like our cat is hyper-alert to any sort of mouse activity, our sinful nature is hyper-alert to God’s activity. “These last worked only one hour, & you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day & the scorching heat.” (Matthew 20:10-12 ESV) Our sinful nature has hunted down the generosity of God & labeled it, “This is not fair!”
In Genesis 4, Cain hunted down his brother Abel & killed him because Abel’s generosity made Cain look bad. It’s quite a dramatic story too – short & to the point.
Moses writes of the birth of Cain in verse 1, & the birth of Abel in verse 2. In verse 3 Cain brings an offering to God. In verse 4 Abel brings his, & Moses specifically mentions that Abel brought “the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock.” (NLT) The 5th verse shares that Cain became very angry. So in verse 6 the Lord speaks to Cain to encourage him, & to warn him that sin is crouching at his door. Nevertheless, by the end of verse 8, Abel is dead because his offering to the Lord properly reflected the generosity of God while Cain’s did not.
The sinful nature of Cain hunted down the generosity of Abel & labeled it, “This is not fair!” It wasn’t fair that his little brother should receive God’s approval while he did not. But our Creator offers His gift of generosity to all of us equally. Sometimes we refuse that gift. All of us have, at one time or another, gotten hung up on expecting life to be fair.
When we bear the burden of the day & the scorching heat we expect to be compensated for it. The previous section of the Gospel of Matthew recounted the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 ESV) In other words, he saw eternal life as something to be earned by our efforts.
When we feel that something in life is unfair, that feeling is often related to our innate desire to be compensated for our efforts. Eventually, the rich young man leaves, because he could not bear to sell what he possessed in order to follow Jesus. Then Jesus says:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24 ESV) The disciples of Jesus are astonished because they believe that a person becomes wealthy through God compensating them for some great good deed. And if a person who does great & good things cannot enter heaven, then who can?
Eventually Jesus replies, “But many who are 1st will be last, & the last 1st.” (Matthew 19:30 ESV) And that is where the Gospel reading for this evening begins. Since the disciples have a complete misunderstanding of God’s kingdom, Jesus tells them what the reign of God is really like. It is totally unfair if you think it’s about who is important or who works the hardest.
As this parable is read we have an awareness of something without really comprehending
it. Unless we actively look for it, unless the Holy Spirit works in us to search it out, we can totally miss the fact that we too have an expectation of being compensated for our good deeds. We also function as if we deserve the blessings we receive from God. As this parable is read your sinful nature, & mine, sits up & takes notice by objecting to God’s design.
That is a dangerous place to be. This parable is a warning to us not to be envious or jealous of our Lord’s generosity. The heavenly Father treats us with unconditional love. As we find our life in Him we treat others in the same way. As we find our life in reputation or money or possessions we end up alienating ourselves from the source of life.
Satan hates everything that is morally good, & so does our own sinful nature. That the owner of the vineyard is generous & that some of the workers are angry indicates that those workers are not actually members of the kingdom of God. They may have appeared, to the culture, to be first, but in truth they will be last.
What Jesus intends is for us to examine ourselves now, lest we lose our souls in the Great Judgment. As the result of the parable seems unfair to us, we should actively seek the counsel & guidance of the Holy Spirit to repent of our sins. As Jesus taught in the 6th chapter of Matthew:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys & where thieves do not break in & steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV)
The Gospel aspect of this parable is that while workers are standing around idle, Jesus goes to them. He seeks them out & offers them life. Then, when the day’s labors are done He generously offers them the kingdom of God. That is how God reigns in this world even now. The generosity of God was perfectly demonstrated by His Son hanging dead on the cross.
That He freely offers life to anyone who will receive it is something for which we should
not be angry & grumble, but thankful, & we should respond by saying, “By grace I’m saved, grace free & boundless!” This is what the reign of God is like! This is what heaven will be like. Amen.
We worship You, God of our fathers, we bless You; through trial & tempest our guide You have been. When perils overtake us, You will not forsake us, & with Your help, O Lord, our struggles we win. With voices united our praises we offer & gladly our songs of thanksgiving we raise. With You, Lord, beside us, Your strong arm will guide us. To You, our great Redeemer, forever be praise! Amen. LSB 785:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet