Sunday, September 24th, 2023

Burned Eyes

Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.  Let us pray.  O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears, that your Word may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. When is the last time you had to watch something so unbearable that you would describe your eyes as having been harassed or burdened for having seen it. I had a friend that texted me this morning that he just found out that on the last 2 plays of the game last night, Notre Dame only had ten guys on the field and they lost the very last play. He is beside himself. Maybe it was a sporting event that you watched where your team was so bad that your eyes feel burdened for having seen it. Maybe it was a TV show, maybe it was a movie adaptation of a book that you love and when you saw it on screen couldn’t believe what you just saw and your eyes felt harassed, or maybe it’s something special to you. Maybe it was your favorite car that got in an accident and you had to watch as the wrecker towed it away, or your favorite piece of pottery shattered on the floor as you watch helplessly. Have your eyes ever been burdened by what they saw? That may seem like a strange way to phrase the question but it is the way that the question is asked in today’s parable, the question that the master asked the workers. Are your eyes burdened by my generosity and because that’s the question in the parable, it is Jesus’s question to his disciples and therefore it is his question to us. Are your eyes burdened by what they see when they look at Jesus? Today’s parable comes at the beginning of Matthew chapter 20. Matthew 19 records the time when the rich young man came to Jesus and asked him, “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Well if you would enter life keep the commandments.” Which ones the man asked? Then Jesus said “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To which the rich young man said to Jesus “Well I have kept those, what do I still lack?” Then Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go and sell everything that you have and give to the poor.” When the rich young man heard this, he went away sad because he had many possessions. And Jesus  turned to his disciples and said,  “Truly I say to you, it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” “Who then can be saved?” his disciples asked. Jesus said with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. And then Peter replied, and we want to pause there for just a second because anyone who’s read Matthew’s gospel from the start knows that anytime Peter replies to anything, he’s about to say something that completely misses the point. Almost makes you wonder whether or not there was some sort of rivalry between Peter and Matthew since Peter’s sole purpose in Matthew’s gospel seems to be to say the wrong thing so that Jesus can correct him for our benefit. Either way, Peter opens his mouth and says “Well what about us Lord? We 12 have left everything, we followed you, we left our nets, we left our boats, Levi left his tax booth, we left our families, we left our homes, we followed you at great personal risk. What reward will we have? And after a cryptic saying about 12 Thrones and the last day, Jesus gives Peter two-part answer. First he says everyone who follows Jesus will receive 100 fold, and will inherit eternal life. Then second, Jesus tells a story. The Kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Now remember, the Kingdom parables in Matthew don’t describe a specific type of place that is the Kingdom of God. They tell us what type of king rules there. A sower who sows seed in his field. A merchant who purchases the entire field just so he can gain possession of the treasure he buried there. A king who was so absurdly forgiving of large debts for his servants and a master who hires day laborers to work in his vineyard. These parables don’t describe a certain type of place, they described the king who rules those places. They describe the king who still rules in our lives today, and so Jesus says the Kingdom of God the reign of God is like a man who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard, and after agreeing with the workers for a denarius a day, he sent them to work, and he repeated the process several more times even up to the 11th hour. Those were standing around the 11th hour were asked why they weren’t working. They said “Well, no one has hired us.” So the master hired them and sent them to work and when the end of the day came the master sent his representative to deliver the promised payment. When those who were hired last received the full day’s pay, those who were hired first expected more. When they didn’t receive more, they grumbled against the master. The master call to them and at least according to the text we heard a few moments ago he said “Do you begrudge my generosity, friend?” The Greek word for friend there, isn’t actually the word that you would expect. The usual Greek word for friend is philos, like Philadelphia the city of brotherly love. This word is hetairos. It’s a word that only Matthew uses in the New Testament, and as one author put it, it’s a distinctly unfriendly word for friend. it’s the word used by the king in a different parable right before he throws the man out in the street for not wearing the proper wedding garments. Friend how did you get in here without a wedding garment? It’s the word used by Jesus to greet Judas right before Judas hands him over to the authorities. “Friend, whatever you came to do, do it quickly.” And so in this context, when the master looked at the worker and says “Friend do you begrudge my generosity?” you might translate it as hey buddy, listen here pal. It means friend but it doesn’t mean friend. So the question at the end of the parable is really, hey buddy, is your eye burdened to see my generosity?  Is watching me be generous like watching a bad movie? Is watching me be generous like watching your loved one die? Is it like going for a morning walk and accidentally seeing what’s left on the carcass of whatever animal was attacked by coyotes last night? Is your eye really burdened at what you have seen? Is it harassed?  Is your eye harassed for seeing my generosity? And with that very strongly worded question, I think we see the point that Jesus is trying to get across with this parable. The parable itself demonstrates how the mercy of God is scandalous to eyes that are focused on comparisons. Jesus tells this parable in response to a question in which Peter compares the disciples to the rich young man and to all the others who hadn’t given up as much as they did to follow Jesus. The parable illustrates that Peter and the disciples will indeed given a full day’s wage, but that comparisons have no place in the kingdom of God. The disciples will receive the gift of salvation and eternal life that is theirs through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And that same salvation is yours through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in your place. There is no place for comparison between the two. The first workers in the parable, they were helpless, they were starving, they were lost until the master found them and brought them into his vineyard. So also Peter and the disciples. So also you and me. We are helpless, dead in our trespasses and sins, until Jesus gets a hold of us, until the Holy Spirit calls us by the gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, sanctifies us, keeps us in the one true faith, richly and daily forgiving all of our sins, and the sins of all believers. And on the last day He will raise us with all the dead, including Peter and all the disciples, and He will give us eternal life in Jesus Christ. In the language of the parable, we will receive our denarius. We will receive the reward for the day. But the other workers in the parable, those hired in the 3rd hour, 6th hour, 11th hour, they were also lost and starving until the master found them. Did they work fewer hours? Yeah. Did those hired at the 11th hour barely work at all? Yeah. Did they avoid the heat of the day and coast to a full day’s wage? Yeah. Did they receive the same payment as those hired first? Yeah, because in the Kingdom of God there’s no room for comparison. When the king looks out over his people he doesn’t make comparisons. All are equal in his eyes. But all who are in the Kingdom will receive the same reward because the reward depends not on the worker, but on the generosity of the master, and so if we want to venture down the path of comparison, the parable offers us a fairly stern warning. Just think of the parable last week, the parable of the steward who received great forgiveness but turned around and would not forgive others. The parable last week ended with a strong warning about what will happen if we refuse to forgive the way that we have been forgiven. The parable today does the same thing. Are your eyes burdened to see the mercy and generosity of the master? If so maybe we’re not looking closely enough at ourselves and the mercy that we have received. So where do we put ourselves in the parable? Are we the ones who are hired at the 11th hour or are we the ones who were hired first, or are we somewhere in the middle? That’s the beauty of this parable. It doesn’t matter. All the workers received the same wage. We have been given the full gift of salvation and forgiveness. Trying to figure out whether I’m the one hired first or the one hired last only leads me down the path to comparison. It only leads me to burdened eyes. It leads me to bitterness and self-righteousness, and Jesus says there’s no room for that in the Kingdom of heaven. Instead, we just rejoice at the gift the master gives. We rejoice of the mercy of the master who saw us dead in our trespasses and sins and who gave us new life so that we might work in His vineyard. He’s here today doing the same thing. Renewing us with his spirit, leading us into the life that he has created for us so that we may delight in his will and walk in his ways to the glory of His Holy name and sending us to work in his vineyard. And he’s here, with his body and blood to rule our hearts and minds by his Holy Spirit that we may be enabled constantly to serve him in his vineyard. He is strengthening us through that same body and blood and faith toward him and in fervent love towards one another as we live each day in his vineyard. There is no need for comparison. There’s no room for comparison. There are only forgiven sinners who have been made right with God, given new life and sent out to work in his vineyard, awaiting the day of resurrection when that denarius is placed in our hands. We’re brought into the life to come. Our Lord does not give us burdened eyes, He gives us eyes that look at Jesus, eyes that the focus on Jesus, the founder perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross for us that we might be His own, that we might live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Burdened eyes, unburdened eyes. Thanks be to God for the eyes of faith, the eyes that see what He would have a see. May our Lord give us such eyes today, and every day as we continue to work in His vineyard, rejoicing in the gifts that He gives to us. May God grant it for Jesus’ sake, Amen