Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 20 (a)] September 20, 2020
1 [Jesus said,] “For the kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
In the Name of Jesus.
A vineyard owner hires laborers at different hours of the day and pays them all a full wage: What does Jesus give us to see in this parable?
None of us would think it’s about good farm management. Jesus didn’t come to give himself on the cross for us to learn better agricultural techniques.
No one would say it’s about time management principles. Jesus didn’t shed his blood to make us good schedulers of time, nor good managers of money, for that matter.
What then? When Jesus tells a parable, it’s not to show how to live a better life or be a better steward or such as that. All that we already know by the Commandments. We even already know it from the wisdom of our world.
When Jesus tells a parable, it’s to reveal who he is. Jesus is on his way to the cross. He tells parables to unwrap what his crucifixion will accomplish for the sinner and how he gives his gifts to the sinner.
In the parables, Jesus is exposing the false views we have of him and revealing to us how we are given to rightly see him.
So, workers are called onto the vineyard at different hours of the day.
When the day closes and it’s time to settle accounts, first, the owner of the vineyard pays each of those who worked just the one hour at the end of the workday a denarius, as if they had worked a full day.
Then, he pays each of those who worked a half-day the same, a denarius, as if they had worked a full day.
Then, those who work a full day are paid a denarius. On its own, that would make sense. A denarius is standard pay for a full day’s labor. If you’re making a denarius a day, you can feed and clothe your family and keep your house.
But then why were those who worked only a half-day or who worked only a single hour paid the same? Matthew 20:10:
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.’
The purpose of the parable? To reveal who Jesus is and what he is doing. And to rescue from false views of Jesus.
[Jesus] replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. 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 look at the words of the vineyard owner, Or do you begrudge my generosity?
This is a bit of a loose translation. If we read this verse in another translation, such as the New King James, it comes out as, Or is your eye evil because I am good?’
That tracks closer to the Greek.
Those who want the vineyard owner to pay according to the work, they have, Jesus would say, an evil eye. That is, an eye not looking for good, but trying to find the evil; an eye which looks at something not trying to find its giftedness, but scanning it for what’s wrong and calling it unfair.
For Jesus, an evil eye is an eye which looks at him and judges him to be acting not according to the Law, an eye looking at him and missing his grace.
In short, an evil eye is an eye reading everything according to the Law and overlooking the Gospel. It’s to look at Jesus not with the eye of a thankful receiver of gifts, but of a tight-fisted auditor keeping score.
Jesus rules out the evil eye. He rules out looking at him to find a new Moses, a new giver of the Law, a teacher who is miserly and stingy with God’s gifts.
“Do you begrudge my generosity,” Jesus has the vineyard owner saying, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me.”
Jesus will not hand out his gifts according to the counting of the Law. He will do with his wealth as he chooses to do.
Jesus will not be put under the measuring and frugality of those who want to keep an eye on whether he is distributing his gifts fairly. He will not let us make him stingy according to what we expect to do if he’s doing right.
He is generous and abundant. He is gracious and overflowing in his giving of gifts. In his Gospel, he is as unrestrained and unpredictable as a vineyard owner who calls people to his vineyard at all hours of the day and gives everyone full pay regardless of how long they’ve been there.
Jesus gives gifts as he chooses.
His gift is his walk to the cross to give his own blood as the ransom price for every sinner.
His gift is his teaching, his doctrine, which he gives to his Apostles that they, in turn, give freely and abundantly to the Church.
His gift is his Word of forgiveness he appoints to be proclaimed without price to gather sinners onto his vineyard, that is, into his Church.
In the Church, he is freely and abundantly giving the gift of the washing of rebirth in Baptism, calling every sinner to the gift of repentance and the forgiveness of sins—And who will try to make him stingy by saying that there are some he cannot baptize, whether because of age or of standing or anything else?
In the Church, he is overflowingly and without measure releasing sins and covering the sinner in the honor of his Name—And who will try to make him tight-fisted by finding a sinner unworthy of his grace?
In the Church, he is abundantly and generously calling his people to the gift of his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins—And who will try to make him miserly by saying we don’t need this gift of his Body and Blood when he gathers us to his Name?
He wants to be known for his grace, for his giving of gifts, for his overflowing-and-making-no-sense generosity.
He refuses to be known as a vineyard owner who doles out payment according to what is earned, causing the sinner to justify himself, which no sinner can do anyway.
He has called you onto his vineyard.
That’s what it means to be hearing this parable for its Gospel. That’s what it means to be gathered into the Church.
And he wants to be known to you as the abundant giver of gifts, as the generous forgiver of sins, as the one who can never be tagged stingy or miserly, but as overflowing and filled with grace, coming to you in his word and saying, Take and eat, my body; take and drink, my blood for the forgiveness of your sin.
In the Name of Jesus.