Septuagesima Sunday – February 8, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank


February 8, 2004

Text: St. Matthew 20:1-16

“For 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 denarius. 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 denarius? 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.”


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

The whole idea of fairness is getting out of hand in our country. There are all sorts of claims for getting what is fair. And we are all very good at spotting what is unfair. It is unfair for corporate executives to receive millions of dollars in bonuses. It is unfair for ball players to receive millions of dollars in salary just to play a dumb game. It is unfair to receive a speeding ticket when the patrolman didn’t give a ticket to the guy who passed you a minute earlier going twice as fast as you were.

Besides these, there are all sort of more serious types of unfairness. Was it fair for that young eleven year old girl in Florida to be murdered on her way home from school? Is it fair that women and children are killed by suicide bombers in Israel? Is it fair that some get incurable cancer while others don’t? There are many, many types of unfairness all around us. Some even think that it is unfair for homosexual couples not to be able to marry. They are wrong, but that will not stop them from trying to force the acceptance of this perversion on the rest of the country.

So what is fairness all about? It is usually about you or me getting the good stuff we think we deserve, but it is not about us getting the bad stuff we deserve. Isn’t it true that talk about fairness is just a one way street? The children of Israel followed Moses into the desert after being saved from slavery in Egypt. But then they complained and complained about how unfair it was that they were not living in the luxury they deserved. God had performed great miracles of deliverance for them, yet that was not enough. No thought was given to what they owed God, but it was all about what God owed them.

Jesus spoke the parable of the landowner and the workers to teach us about relying on the grace of God and not looking for rewards or compensation that we deserve. This parable is about the Gospel and its great treasure freely given despite the fact that we haven’t earned it. It is not about the law, because the law is all about earning something, about fairness, about justice, about everything being equal.

The first workers of the day worked the longest. But before they even worked they had agreed to a specific amount of money. It seemed fair at the time to them, or else they would not have agreed to work for that wage, one denarius. So they go out and put in the hours expected of them, and they get exactly what they agreed to, no more, no less. So what makes them complain at the end of the day? They don’t look at what they agreed to, they look at what others are getting. Their complaints grow from coveting, from greediness, from a sense of unfairness, of being cheated. They would never have worked twelve hours for one denarius if they knew they could have gotten the same amount for working just one hour. But they received what they deserved.

The other workers did not make an agreement for a wage before they started working. Instead, the landowner said, “whatever is right, I will give you.” These workers decided simply to rely on the landowner. And they received as much as the first ones.

This is not fair, is it. But this parable is not about salaries, and equal pay for equal work, it is not a tool for discussions between labor and management. This parable is about the kingdom of heaven and how it is different from the world and its insistence on fairness.

The kingdom of heaven deals with us in two ways: law and gospel. The law is all about fairness. If you do this, then this will be your reward. If you do not do this, then this will be your punishment. It is very straight forward. Everything balances out. It is very, very fair. And it should scare you to death to think that God must judge you in this way.

God’s law is good and perfect. We are not. And that is what makes the law a problem for us, the way of death instead of life. The law demands that you never have any other god than the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It goes on to teach us that anytime we trust or love or rely on someone or something, then that thing is our god. So, we find that our lives are filled with many gods, things that give us pleasure, things that make us feel secure, things that give us power. Whatever or whoever these things are, they are all false gods, which means that we have not loved God as we should. The law demands perfection. It demands 100% obedience. So as soon as the law is broken by us, what is the punishment? “The wages of sin is death.”

Do you want God to be fair with you? Do you want Him to give you exactly what you have earned? You have not been as kind to your husband or wife as you should have been. You have not raised your children as you should have. You have not been as generous as you should have been. So what have you earned with all this? What does it mean for God to be fair with you in this matter? It means that He should allow you to suffer for your sins right now and for all eternity. That would be the fairest way.

But God is love. And love is not fair. Parents are to love our children even when we are sorely disappointed by them. Because of love we are to be kind to others even when they don’t deserve it. That is love.

God’s love is far above any love we can achieve. He loved us so much that He did not want us to die in our sins. So He made a plan for our salvation that was unfair. He gave His best and dearest, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. God did not even bother to weigh all our sin to determine the exact amount needed to pay for it all. He simply paid so much that no sin or pile of sins could ever come close to using it all up. That payment is the life and death, the shedding of the blood, of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. How unfair! But that is what it means that we are saved by grace alone. Grace is unfair. It is love we do not in any way deserve or earn. It is simply given.

Jesus teaches us that we should not be like the workers who complained at the unfairness of the landowner. Instead, let us rejoice in the grand unfairness of the grace of God, a love so immense that we need not think of paying for our sin, it is all taken care of. Such love allows us to approach God without fear, for by His grace we are able to approach Him as children speak to their dear father. Such love allows us to rest in peace when we approach our own time of death, for we know that by God’s grace our sins will not be a weight that sinks us into hell, but we are given forgiveness for all, and we will be carried to heaven. We are saved by grace alone. That is the grand and wonderful unfairness of God’s love for each of you. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Share this post