Roger's Postings

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Matthew 20:1-16. God's (un)fairness!! 21/9/08

(1) "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. {2} He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. {3} "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. {4} He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' {5} So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. {6} About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' {7} "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' {8} "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' {9} "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. {10} So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. {11} When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. {12} 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' {13} "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? {14} Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. {15} Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' {16} "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

‘Its not fair! - Its just not fair! Why should the last be first, and those who have suffered and sweated it out, get no more than those who have done little? Its not fair! - Its just not fair!’
Seriously though, I am sure a lot of us are not real happy about this statement of Jesus’, 'so those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last'. It doesn't seem right to us. It doesn't fit with our concept of fairness and rights: there is no justice in that statement.

Think of the illustration that Jesus uses here: a group of workers go out at 9am for an agreed day’s wages and work all day - through the heat of the afternoon and all. Then another lot is sent out at five o’clock and probably only did about an hours works. When it comes to pay up time - they all get same wages. That doesn't seem fair to us - does it? Then to make matters worse, he goes on to say, 'so those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last'. Now that really goes against the grain: that is rubbing salt into the wound.

Yet, when we really consider the issue that he is speaking about, that is just where the fairness of it all comes in. You see, if we want to operate by justice and rights and what we deserve, then we had best expect to be last. When it comes to God's kingdom, we had best be very careful in insisting on our rights and on what we deserve, because not only might we be last – we might well miss out all together. We are told elsewhere in the Scriptures, that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God": That none of us come anywhere near the perfection that God expects from us. Therefore we all deserve nothing but punishment and rejection. We deserve to be sent to Hell. That being the case we'd best be very careful about insisting on what we deserve.

So if our attitude toward God and his kingdom – and toward his Church; is what can I get out of it - what is in it for me, then there is a problem in our thinking. If we think that we are better than the next person in Church or even those outside, then we are heading for trouble. If we believe that just because we have been in church longer, or been more involved - that God will somehow reward us more or that we will somehow have a higher position – then look out. Old, young, more knowledgeable, harder worker or whatever; none of that entitles us to a greater reward in heaven.

Now that off course goes against the grain of our world’s way of thinking. Because we are so hell-bent on focussing on ourselves and what we do, that we have ingrained in our thinking that the job we have and the length of service is what it is all about. So we think and want to change what God says to fall into line with our thinking, rather than the other way around. We want to be rewarded for the goodness that we have and do; after all that is only fair. Even if it is only that we can be first or higher up in the scheme of things at the end.

However God does not give us what deserve, because that would mean disaster for all us. All of us let God down badly time and time again. All of us are orientated toward ourselves rather than God. All of us are far from perfect, and so all deserve to be totally rejected by God. But God has another and better way for us, if only we would listen: if only we could allow our sinful human pride to be pushed aside. But, if we insist on getting somewhere because of our works: because of how much we have done; then he says to us, our desire to be first, means we will be last. He will have to give us what deserve. And that is not nice.

But thankfully our reading reminds us that we are rewarded by God's generosity, not by what we deserve. His grace determines what we will end up with. The owner of the farm in Jesus’ illustration, out of his goodness determined that he would give those who worked only an hour, a days wages. He gave to those who worked all day what they had bargained on, but because of his love and concern for all he gave them all the same, because he wanted to give: he wanted them all to survive and have what they all needed. That is the way God seeks to deal with us his people: To give generously to all, out of his goodness; simply because he loves us.

God's justice determines we deserved to be punished in Hell, but because of his Son Jesus Christ, and his life, death and resurrection, he now can give out his grace, to each and every one of us. You see Jesus who was truly first: the only one who lived without sin: the only one who truly earned his way; allowed himself to become last. He allowed himself to be condemned, for what you and I have failed to be. He allowed himself to be punished in our place: to take what we deserved on himself; so that we could now be first: So that his Father might look on us and accept us as perfect people. He became absolute last, so that we might be first.

How unfair that is! He was punished and died, being totally forsaken by his Father, so that we who do not even come part way toward being acceptable, might be freely accepted by God. That is just not fair! That is ridiculous to our way of thinking. Yet that is the way God has chosen to work. That is the way he has dealt with us.

Because of Jesus death on the cross forgiveness is now there for each and every human being, young and old, rich and poor, good living people and absolute mongrels: all are now given free access to the Father, through Jesus Christ. All now have been declared first. Every single one of us: first workers or those who only come on the scene at the end of the day. All are given full pay. All are given eternal life in heaven. He can give me and you, the same he gives to Peter, Paul, Luther, and all the other great saints. His goodness deems that the youth; the baby; the new Christian; and even the person who comes to believe on his death bed, all get same reward in heaven as everybody else. He lifts the poor, lonely and forgotten up to the same level as the greatest. They all attain the most wonderful blessings God can give. And it is there that we have God's fairness showing out in such a wonderful way: there we have the greatness of our God. This is truly remarkable stuff - this grace of God is simply over the top.

Now of course, unfortunately, we know that most people turn their backs on it all. They reject this wonderful gift, and so lose what has been so generously made available.

But for those who simply believe: who simply trust that this is true, even if unfair to our way of thinking; they have that sure hope that it is now all there for us: That we are all first, because Jesus allowed himself to be last, for us. With that in mind: with the Lord Jesus Christ in the fore-front of our thinking we can now have a whole new understanding of what is right and fair: we can go forward with great confidence: not in ourselves but in the Lord Jesus.

And that is the real message in this reading. As we seek to live by and under the grace of God - recognising that he is the giver of all good things – and that he gives not because of how long we have been in Church; or how hard we have worked for him; or how righteous and spiritual we are; or anything else; but simply because of his love and generosity, then he will deal with us out of the abundance of his grace and blessing. But if we insist on justice and our deserts – insisting that God should do this or that for us; or that he should give us a good living or other good things because we have prayed for them; our that he should even accept us because we live good Christian lives; or anything like that: then it is justice we shall have. Those who are last will be first and those who wish to be first will be last'.
There is nothing that can be fairer than that. So let us not forget this important message. Let us thank God for his goodness – for his generosity. Thank God for his grace. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze
Redeemer Lutheran Church


Post a Comment

<< Home