Matthew 20.1-16 (Septuagesima – 2020)
heavenly Father, through Your holy Word You have called us into Your vineyard:
Send, we beseech You, Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may labor
faithfully in Your vineyard, shun sin and all offense, obediently keep Your
Word and do Your will, and put our whole and only trust in Your grace, which
You have bestowed upon us so abundantly; through Your Son Jesus Christ, that we
might obtain eternal salvation through Him; who lives and reigns with You and
the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our
Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to
hire laborers for his vineyard.
2 “Now when he had agreed with
the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 “And he went out about the
third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 “and said to them,`You also
go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.
5 “Again he went out about the
sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 “And about the eleventh hour
he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them,`Why have you been
standing here idle all day?’
7 “They said to him,`Because
no one hired us.’ He said to them,`You also go into the vineyard, and whatever
is right you will receive.’
8 “So when evening had come,
the owner of the vineyard said to his steward,`Call the laborers and give them their
wages, beginning with the last to the first.’
9 “And when those came who were
hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.
10 “But when the first came,
they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a
11 “And when they had received
it, they complained against the landowner,
12 “saying,`These last men have
worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the
burden and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of
them and said,`Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a
14 `Take what is yours and
go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.
15 `Is it not lawful for me to do
what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’
16 “So the last will be first,
and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth.
became the Roman Emperor in the year of our Lord 249. He had the desire to
unite the Roman Empire and restore it to its former glory. His plan to do this
included an edict that required the citizens of the kingdom to offer sacrifices
to the Roman gods, and to burn incense before an image of the Emperor. They had
to do this before a magistrate to confirm that they performed the requirements.
were the Christians to do? Well, it’s pretty clear. There are the commands of
Scripture, “You shall have no other gods,” and “You ought to obey God
rather than men.” But what were they to endure for their faithfulness to
God? Or to ask it another way, what was in store for them as they lived their
baptismal lives in the vineyard to which they have been called? The Christians
were imprisoned, banished from their country, lost their property, suffered
torture, mutilation of their bodies, and also were put to death.
persecution ended after 18 months when Emperor Decius died. After the
persecution Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage spoke of those who faithfully
endured the persecution. He wrote, “The day earnestly desired, by the prayers
of all has come; and after the dreadful and loathsome darkness of a long night,
the world has shone forth irradiated by the light of the Lord… The white-robed
cohort of Christ’s soldiers is here, who in the fierce conflict have broken the
ferocious turbulence of an urgent persecution, having been prepared for the
suffering of the dungeon, armed for the endurance of death. Bravely you have
resisted the world: you have afforded a glorious spectacle in the sight of God;
you have been an example to your brethren that shall follow you. That religious
voice has named the name of Christ, in whom it has once confessed that it
believed; those illustrious hands, which had only been accustomed to divine
works, have resisted the sacrilegious sacrifices; those lips, sanctified by
heavenly food after the body and blood of the Lord, have rejected the profane
contacts and the leavings of the idols…. Your brow, pure with the sign of God,
could not bear the crown of the devil, but reserved itself for the Lord’s
crown. How joyously does your Mother Church receive you in her bosom, as you
return from the battle!”
there were some, rather many, who were not faithful. When they were required to
sacrifice to the Roman gods, and burn incense for the emperor at the threat of
punishment, they denied Christ and worshipped the Roman gods. When the heat of
the day came upon them, they bailed. Of these, Cyprian said, “each one was
desirous of increasing his estate; and forgetful of what believers had either
done before in the times of the apostles, or always ought to do, they, with the
insatiable ardour of covetousness, devoted themselves to the increase of their
property… They united in the bond of marriage with unbelievers; they
prostituted the members of Christ to the Gentiles.” Even bishops and priests
abandoned the brothers and sisters.
who were imprisoned and banished were gladly received in the Church. But what about
those who escaped the vineyard when the heat of the day threatened them, when
they encountered trials? They had forsaken God and their brothers and sisters
in Christ. And then there’s the words that Jesus had said, “Whoever denies
Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Mt
was a priest and noted theologian named Novatian. He said that those who lapsed,
or who denied the faith by sacrificing to idols cannot be welcomed back into
addressed the matter. Now there were some churches that were overly lax with
the law. They treated the idolatry as no big deal. It mattered not whether the
sinner had contrition. They did not seek repentance. They welcomed all into the
Church. Cyprian quotes Paul, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup
of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.”
And describes many who return to the Church, “Returning from the
altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands
filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing
idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the
fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord.”
rightly said that the repentant ought to be welcomed back into the Church. They
are to be called Christians, and they shall enjoy Christ’s gifts of forgiveness
and eternal life. This is the point of our Gospel reading.
seems like an offense. Here are these Christians who endured the heat of the
day, suffering greatly for their faithfulness to God. And they have the same
favor of God, belong to the same body of the redeemed, have the same
forgiveness won by Christ, and have the same reward of heaven. This is because
these things are gifts given by God’s grace. The faithful cannot claim these
gifts by any merit of their own.
on the one hand, we should not be presumptuous, and consider ourselves first.
Living our baptismal lives in the vineyard of God’s kingdom, we all ought to
strive to be faithful in following Christ, in abiding in His Word, and doing
the Commandments in love for God and for our neighbor. But do not compare your Christian
life with others and think yourself more worthy of God’s favor than others. First
of all, this is works-righteousness, and in this way, you despise God’s grace,
and Christ whose merit alone saves you. Furthermore, we can always be convicted
by the Law, and see that we too at times have faltered in our lives in the
vineyard, slouching as the heat of the day comes upon us. It may not be the
strong heat of brutal persecution that the Christians in 250 suffered, but it our
Christian lives are met with the trials and pressures in the world. There are
times when we have an opportunity to share Christ with someone, but out of fear
of awkwardness or rejection, we remain quiet. Though no laws demand we worship
other gods, our hearts make things into gods, desiring to be elsewhere than
before the altar of our gracious God on Sunday mornings.
are the pressures of the culture to live and believe and act a certain way,
ways different than the way that God has created us to live. Do we slack in our
work in the vineyard, and participate in the ways of the world?
then there’s even the pressures against our sinful flesh. It is difficult to
deny ourselves again, and again, and again. We have the sinful desire for
self-glorification, self-righteousness, pride and greed. Our flesh would have
us indulge in our desires and lusts. We give in sometimes. Often in weakness,
sometimes willingly. Oh how we have been disobedient to God!
in accordance with the message of our Gospel reading, we have no reason to be
presumptuous, thinking that we have earned anything from God by our own merits.
Truly, we are unworthy of any good thing from Him.
on the other hand, we who are unworthy, with contrite hearts, we find comfort
in this Gospel that God is favorable toward us not on account on us, but on
account of what Jesus has done for us. This grace is not a license to escape
the work in the vineyard, and to follow other gods, but His grace forgives us
and saves us from our sins, and keeps God’s favor upon us, living in the
vineyard of God’s grace, that we may continue to follow Him.
so by the grace of God, which is ours because of Christ’s suffering and death
for us, we have forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. We have the reward of God’s
favor, and an eternal inheritance with Him. All this is a gift for us, whether
we have faithfully worked under the heat of the day, or whether we have
faltered under it.
so this text guards us from pride and self-righteousness, but also from
despair. God is gracious to you. He is favorable to you, not because of
anything you have done, nor is there anything you must do to be worthy of it.
But He is favorable to you because of the atoning work of Christ on the cross
for you. Amen.
be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the
beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.