Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

We are never content with God’s reign in the world. We cannot comprehend that it often goes so well with wicked people while the faithful must bear the cross and all sorts of trouble. Psalm 73 says, I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. The prophet Jeremiah complains to God, Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

We are especially not content with God’s reign in the world when we believe that God distributes good things in His kingdom not by merit but by grace. The Old Adam in us sees God’s gift given by His boundless grace as Germans see the word “gift”. Gift in German means “poison”. The Old Adam is a mercenary. He looks suspiciously at God, even murmurs against God because He is so good.

God’s response to the mercenary Old Adam is that of the master of the house in the Parable of the Vineyard: 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? Then comes the clincher that our translation just doesn’t catch well: Do you begrudge my generosity? Even better: Is your eye evil because I am good? Today let’s focus on the next to last part. God asks you today, Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?

The owner of the vineyard went out to hire laborers for his vineyard. No one came forward to him to work in his vineyard. He went out to look for them. He calls idle men who stood around all day with their hands in their pockets looking for something to do. He didn’t owe them anything. They had no claim on his vineyard. The kindness of the master of the house prompted him to approach them. He alone gave them the right and the authority to work in his vineyard. He alone gave the wages for the work.

This parable is a picture of the heavenly kingdom. God is no man’s debtor. God is not guilty toward mankind. He did not cause them to sin. Nevertheless, God conceived the plan for your redemption. He executed the plan in the fullness of time…His time, not your time.

The vineyard is His. He prepared it. It is His property. No man by nature has a right to own it, let alone work in it. By nature we all stand around with our hands in our pockets in the marketplace of sin. We don’t want to enter into God’s kingdom. King David sings in Psalm 14: The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. What is more, there is nothing we can do about it. Saint Paul says, The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned…. No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

God goes out through the preaching of the Gospel and calls men into His vineyard. Have you ever thought what leads Him to call rank sinners like you and me into His vineyard? Think of it, God owes you nothing. We owe Him everything. When God calls you into His vineyard, it is grace. Paul explains it to Saint Timothy this way: He saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

God does not need you to work in His vineyard. Psalm 104 says that His ministers are a flaming fire. God owes you no wage. The fact that you are able to work in His kingdom is a gift from Him to you. You have no power to do it. He alone gives it to you. By the grace of God you are who you are, and his grace toward you is not in vain.

God is no man’s debtor, so of course He has the power to do what He wants with what is His. He alone has the authority to hand out good things that belong to no one else. His good things, both earthly and heavenly, are in no way entitlements. You have no legal claim to them. He has the authority to deliver His gifts to sinners and thieves that have no merit to show Him.

He gives His gifts when He wants to give His gifts. Some He calls earlier, some He calls later, Some bear heavy burdens, other bear light loads. Consider Job, the prophets, the apostles, the first Christians, and those in your families who have gone before you in the faith. Some had a tremendous cross to bear. Others seemed to have it quite easy. Some have a lot of work to do in the vineyard. Here we think of Moses, Paul, Martin Luther, and other heroes of the faith. Then there are those who didn’t do so much, yet still received their good things and bad things in the course of time.

The Lord God even has the authority to give as much as He wants of what is His. The way of the world is fair: How hard you work determines how much you get paid. In Christ’s kingdom, however, this is not so. Everything is gift. God distributes His gifts as He pleases. He does not give according to merit or worthiness on your part. If He did, then no one here would ever receive one gift from God. He gives the same grace to all, just as He gave to King David or even the thief on the cross.

Is your eye evil because God is so good? If so, then you deny God the right that He owes you nothing and that He has the power to do what He wants with what belongs to Him. You arrogantly rise up against your neighbor and put yourself first, as you are wont to do as a sinful creature. You overturn the applecart of God’s grace and destroy your salvation. God is a God of grace: pure, clear grace. God alone has the power to do what He wants with what is His. Repent. Do not take this honor from Him.

Receive what is yours from a loving, giving God Who wants to give you forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He gives you everything you need for your body and life. He even gives you Jesus Christ, Whose perfect obedience and precious blood pleads your innocence before the Father in heaven. He gives you an eternal inheritance in your Baptism. He gives you forgiveness of sins in His Son’s Holy Supper. God gives. That’s what He does best. All you do is receive those gifts. He even teaches you how to receive them. You say, Amen. Gift received. There is nothing more left to say, for God is so gracious in saving you from eternal death because of Jesus Christ.

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