Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Do you begrudge my generosity? It’s a smooth translation, but the English Standard Version doesn’t quite grasp the Greek. A better way to say it would be, is your eye evil because I am good? This brings out the fact that we have two ways about us. We have the old man, the flesh that makes misery and sorrow, strife and unrest among us. We also have the new man, born from the Spirit, born from God. The famous Latin phrase Luther used to describe the relationship between the old man and the new man in us is simul justus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner.

So let’s pose the question to ourselves: Is your eye evil because God is so good?

We must first answer the question yes with a contrite heart. God is so good. He is the Master of the house of the entire world. All earthly goods come from His Hand. God is also the Master of the house in His heavenly kingdom. We see this later in Matthew chapter 20 when James and John’s mother makes a request to Jesus that her sons should sit either side of Him in His kingdom. Their mother would not have asked that question had she not believed Jesus is true God as well as true man.

We live in God’s vineyard. We are not entitled to it. He calls us to labor in His vineyard. He calls at all hours, be it early or late. He calls because of His graciousness. He also distributes His goods in His kingdom according to His goodness. This answers the question why those who worked only one hour in the vineyard receive their pay first rather than those who worked twelve hours. He is good. The wages He pays are just that: HIS. He doesn’t have to pay His workers. He does so out of love, out of His grace.

No wonder why the old man in us hates His system of paying wages. We think that what we earn was ours from the start. We don’t want to live under grace. We’d rather live in the kingdom of merit. Those who work the hardest or the longest or the best should be paid more than those of less seniority or less hours or less effort. Because the Owner of the vineyard does not follow our way of thinking, we grumble against Him.

That’s the way of the old man. We are self-righteous. How easily we forget the grace of God amid our standing idle in the marketplace or amid bearing the burden and the heat of the day. We would rather point to our hard work or something else inside us that show we are more deserving of better wages compared to those hired to work one hour and receive the same pay we received for working twelve hours.

We are selfish. We love to sing hymns like “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” or “By Grace I’m Saved, Grace Free and Boundless,” yet hate grace with every fiber of our being. The Law of God makes us small. The Gospel tastes like poison because it requires us to do nothing. The words of grumbling in the Gospel, 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, quite easily fall from our lips because, unless we watch over our heart, a true hatred of God’s Word of grace can spring up. Faith can be slaughtered; for all that mumbling can progress to overt rebellion.

We have often and long deserved to be expelled from the kingdom of heaven. We deserve to hear the words of the Master of the vineyard, Take what belongs to you and go. We deserve to be moved from first to last. The old man in all of us loves to give the stink-eye to God’s grace. It’s too free. It’s too easy. Something for nothing is bad business. However, it’s the way God operates in His kingdom.

Nevertheless, a different nature still lives in us. There is another answer to the question is your eye evil because God is so good? We answer from a believing heart NO, thanks be to God!

God is so good. So where do we stand? If God is fair, what would become of us? What have we earned from Him that He would prepare for us a heavenly kingdom, would summon us into it, and would endow us with good things in it? We stood idly in the marketplace, maybe even for the whole day. None of us has or would have come forward for inclusion in God’s kingdom. The Master is the only one who goes out to look for us. It’s true that He doesn’t need us. He could preach the Christmas and Easter Gospel without us just fine. He also doesn’t need our works, for His work is perfect and good. Our works are like filthy rages before Him. Without Him we can do nothing. Yes, God is so good. God’s goodness is our comfort.

Faith walks in the way of being given to, not in the way of earning from. The grace to find comfort comes only in believing in a merciful God Who sends His only-begotten Son to suffer and die for our sin on our behalf. God’s favor poured out upon us because of Christ means that we no longer have to mumble about grace. We no longer need to insist to live by our merit. We now live in knowing that we are completely unworthy of any gift given to us by God. Nevertheless, we take everything from Him as a gift without believing that we have done something better than our neighbor in receiving His grace.

The fight between the old man who loves his own merit and the new man who loves God’s grace will continue every day until our death. By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, our evil eyes are made good by clinging to Christ for our salvation. All is fair in the Lord’s vineyard, for He has called us to labor here and receive what He has promised: eternal life in His kingdom.

My heart is glad, all grief has flown/Since I am saved by grace alone (LSB 566:6).

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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