“Our Generous God”
Isaiah 55:8-9; Matthew 20:9-16
Pentecost 16 – September 23/24, 2017
What does it mean to be “generous?” The dictionary says: a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.
- How much is a generous helping of mashed potatoes?
- How much money is a generous donation to a charity?
- What does it mean for a person to be generous with both his time and his money?
- What is a generous tip at a restaurant – 18%, 20%, higher? No matter what our definition, it is nothing compared to “Our Generous God!” In our first Scripture reading we read: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9) The more we learn from God and His Word, the more we must say a definite “Amen!” to this truth from God. And again this weekend, we can rejoice greatly that God’s generous ways are NOT our ways (and cannot be compared to what we might consider “generous”), as Jesus teaches us in this shocking parable that we call “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.”
Jesus always told parables to teach His disciples (and us) a truth that is “out of this world;” a truth that is “higher than our ways.” And today’s parable is no exception!
Jesus tells us: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning (6:00 a.m.) to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day (12 hours) and sent them into his vineyard.” To help us understand what Jesus is teaching, instead of a “denarius,” we understand it better as a good day’s wage – just to make it easy let’s say, $10 per hour; so the work day was 12 hours / $120 for a day’s work.
Jesus continues: “About 9:00 a.m. he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in My vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about Noon and 3:00 p.m. and did the same thing. About the 5:00 p.m., he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in My vineyard.’” (Matthew 20:1-7)
Can you imagine the talk that went on as each “new group of workers” joined the others? I imagine they did some “checking amongst themselves.” Those hired at 9:00 a.m. probably asked those who had started at 6:00 a.m. – “Say, what’s the boss paying you? He told us that he’d pay us what is right.” When they found out $120, they easily calculated that they’d be paid $90 – great! Also those hired at noon, probably figured they’d be getting $60; those starting at 3:00 p.m. – $30; and the last at 5:00 p.m. would be happy with $10! In this world, we expect “fair labor practices” / to “receive equal pay for equal work.”
Jesus says: “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.’ The workers who were hired about the 11th hour came and each received a denarius ($120!). So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.” If you had worked all 12 hours, would you have expected it?
Jesus says: “So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius (generous pay for a day’s work!). When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘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.’ But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with My own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” And then Jesus states God’s “gracious Way” that goes against our grumbling “way:” “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
But it isn’t fair! We protest! We are so caught up in the earthly, “American way” of “work harder = get ahead of your neighbor.” We are constantly comparing ourselves with others; doing our mental bookkeeping deciding what we think we should be getting and grumbling when others seem to be getting more than we. (This is a form of coveting, the opposite of being content, the 9th & 10th commandments; a reminder of our great sinfulness against God!)
Now, Jesus did NOT tell this parable as instructions on “how to do business in this world.” We know that a “landowner” (in this world) wouldn’t be able to afford this kind of generosity on a regular basis – he’d never make a profit! But note that Jesus says: “For the kingdom of heaven is like…” Take special note that Jesus IS telling us a parable about “the owner” who can afford this kind of generosity and regularly gives it!
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day had “standards” for entry into the Kingdom of heaven. Once they brought in a woman “caught in adultery;” certainly NOT a candidate for God’s kingdom. But Jesus (teaching them that their “way” was NOT God’s way) said, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) After all had left (they were honest enough to know their guilt), Jesus graciously said to the woman, “neither do I condemn you… Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v.11) The Pharisees would NOT see Matthew a tax collector, or Zacchaeus, as fit for the Kingdom of heaven; and yet Jesus graciously included them! When Jesus was dining at the home of Simon, the Pharisee, and “a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town” (Luke 7:37) washed Jesus’ “feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Those who were there couldn’t believe that Jesus would allow it, and then were utterly amazed when Jesus graciously said to this woman, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (v.48, 50) And there are many more examples!
We know (in our heads) that we are “saved by grace, through faith, this is not our own doing, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and yet, because of our sinful, selfish nature, we still think in terms of “rewards and punishments” / foolishly demanding that we be treated “fairly.” But, grace isn’t fair but it is God’s generous gift given to those who in this world
- appear to be “last” – the “sinners”, the “losers,” those who on their death-bed (like the repentant thief on the cross) are brought to saving faith; as well as
- to those who appear to be “first” – the “faithful followers” of Jesus; who find great joy in working in God’s vineyard. “Fair” has to do with the “justice” of the Law – which condemns us all – if we received what we truly deserve… “God’s Generous Grace” has to do with love – forgiveness, renewal – “helpful, healing” of the Gospel which leads to a desire to serve and love in return. God bless you with His generous gifts of Word and Sacraments today and every day. I look forward to being with you this next weekend for more of God’s gracious blessings given through our worship and Bible studies.
- Pastor Myers