Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 20:1-16
Dear recipients of generous wages: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do not run your vineyard, or your farm, or your business like the master of the house in Jesus’ parable. If you pay the labourer who works for one hour in the day equal to the one who works twelve hours in the day, you will not find many labourers willing to work twelve hours, but you will find many willing to work one hour.
It simply is not fair to give equal pay for unequal work. If one labourer worked twelve hours, it is not fair to pay him the same as to the labourer who worked only one hour. We have a sense of what is fair and right, and that’s not it.
If you want to run your farm or business profitably, you have to reward the behaviour in your employees that helps you make more money. You have to pay the employees more that do more work and pay the employees less who do less work. That’s how you stay in business. That’s how you don’t lose the farm. It’s just good business. Equal pay for equal work, right? You get paid for the work you do, but not for the work you don’t do.
The Church, which is the kingdom of heaven on earth, is not a business. Sure, we have to do some business-like things, but the Church is not a business. We have to pay the bills. We have to maintain the building. We have to give enough to balance the budget or this congregation will close. However, the Church is not a business. Equality in the kingdom of heaven is not the same as equality in business.
In one sense, we are all equal. We are all sinners deserving temporal and eternal punishment. That is where the equality stops. Some members of the kingdom of heaven spent a lifetime living in sin before entering the kingdom of heaven, while others were baptized into the kingdom of heaven the day they were born. Some members of the kingdom of heaven have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, working on the church council, as treasurers, as trustees, while other members simply show up and reap the benefits. Some members support the church through sacrificial offerings to the congregation, to seminaries, to missions, while other members contribute next to nothing at all. Despite these differences in labour, we all get equal wages – eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.
This doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right. That’s even before we start comparing ourselves to those who have worked as missionaries in dangerous places, sacrificing the comforts of this life to bring the Gospel to others, sometimes even sacrificing their very lives. Yet, we all get the same wages that we were promised.
The kingdom of heaven is not a meritocracy. We don’t get what we deserve in God’s kingdom. If we got what we deserved as our wages, we would all get eternal death. As Scripture teaches, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Rather, everyone in the kingdom of heaven receives the same undeserved wages – “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
God does not give out varying amounts of forgiveness. In Jesus, He always gives us full and complete forgiveness. Regardless of the amount of sin in your past, Christ covers them all with His righteousness. You cannot be more righteous than Jesus, so when Jesus gives you His righteousness, there is no one more righteous than you. Before God’s judgment throne, you are as perfect and righteous as Jesus, since He has given you His righteousness. The same is true of everyone who is God’s child, no matter what they’ve done or left undone.
Now, we can look at those who we deem to be more sinful, or those we deem to have worked less or given less than us, and say that it’s not fair that they get the same wages as us. God responds to us, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Are you not getting the wages that I promised you? I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
We need to stop looking at others and look to ourselves. We are all guilty before God and deserving nothing but hell. Out of His great love and generosity, He forgives us all freely and gives us wages that we do not deserve. How dare you begrudge God’s generosity to others! Is God not allowed to give His forgiveness to everyone as He sees right? Is God not allowed to give all His children His overflowing, undeserved forgiveness like He gives it to you?
God is so generous and overflowing with His forgiveness so that we all know that it is for us. The kingdom of heaven is not a business. Forgiveness is not sold. Forgiveness is not earned. Forgiveness is given freely because Jesus has paid the price of the sins of the whole world.
Through His life and death, Jesus earned the wages of eternal life for us. He is the one who earned and accomplished what we cannot. He alone earned salvation for us and gives it to us freely, as a gift.
Christ gives salvation freely through Baptism to the infant just newly born. He gives it freely to the sinner who finally on his deathbed recognizes and confesses his sins and is absolved. Christ gives His salvation freely in the Sacrament of the Altar, where all we do is receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and yet we receive the wages of eternal life that Christ earned for us.
None of us has accomplished the work necessary to save us, but Jesus has. None of us has laboured to the point of earning eternal life for ourselves, but Jesus earned eternal life for us. None of us deserves eternal life, but Jesus gives it to us freely. His Church is not a place of business, but a place where forgiveness is given freely, abundantly, and generously. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.