Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

Grace is Jesus telling the Jews in Solomon’s Colonnade: I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. Note the subject and object of that sentence. I give them. There’s no wiggle room there for you doing something special to earn or even deserve eternal life. Jesus gives. You receive. In Christ you will never perish and no one will snatch you out of His hand.

The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace. The cry of grace goes out from a reconciled God in Christ Jesus to receive eternal salvation. He sets the terms. He gives you a place to live in His grace. He gives you the various vocations to serve your neighbor, who is a little Christ in your midst. It’s all a gift.

Yet there are those who give the skunk eye to the whole thing. Daddy always said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Worse yet there is standing around doing nothing, even up to the last possible moment. Those who stand around doing nothing figure just being there is good enough. They don’t need a gift and they certainly don’t want it. There’s got to be a better way than the way the master of the vineyard does things.

He sets the terms. He offers the wage. He gives the gift. You want to stand around and do nothing, then that’s your business. You stand around too long looking for your own advantage at your own peril. The call remains to come and work, but one day that call won’t be there. Maybe your eleventh hour is now. Saint Paul is not kidding around in Second Corinthians chapter six when he says we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain…. Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Your merit, your looking for your own advantage, your own bookkeeping, doesn’t mean a thing to God Almighty. Grace is everything in Christ’s kingdom. Remember what grace is: the favor of God for Christ’s sake. Grace is forgiveness offered in and made operative for the faithful in the Gifts Christ gives His Church. The starting point of grace is Christ’s reconciliation of sinners in His innocent suffering and death. No atonement of sin, no Gifts. No Gifts, no forgiveness of sins. You can’t separate God’s grace for you from the Gifts of Christ in Word, water, bread, and wine. Those who do have made grace into merit, and there’s no room for your personal merit in the kingdom of heaven.

Only a fool would mock a deathbed conversion. Yet there are plenty of fools today who refuse to believe that even the vilest of sinners receive Christ’s free grace when they repent of sin and believe the Gospel, the Good News of free forgiveness and life in Jesus. Worse yet is pushing grace aside to rely on your own goodness or kindness. When someone dies we have our stock lines for the family. “He was a good person.” “She was a hard worker.” There’s no doubt, earthly speaking, that a person is good or a hard worker. These have no truck in the kingdom of heaven. Everyone receives the same wage after laboring in the Master’s vineyard: forgiveness, life, and salvation. That’s fair because that’s Christ’s gift for you. He set the wage. He gives you the gift of receiving that wage.

You’re not alone in insisting that your hard work or your kind heart gets you eternal life. Even our Lord’s disciples have arguments over who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. That’s why Jesus places a child in the midst of them to show who is the greatest. A child isn’t thinking about what they do or how much they can do or how much they deserve something. They are told something, believe it, and do it. They don’t question it. They don’t play bookkeeper. They embody Saint Paul in Philippians chapter three: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as excrement, in order that I may gain Christ.

So what will it be: the gift of Christ Jesus or the excrement of your merit, your works, your last name, or anything else that stands in the way of Jesus’ blood and righteousness for you? Clinging to grace is the easy choice, but continuing to cling to God’s grace is ever so hard this side of the new creation. Living as both saint and sinner means we love grace, but we also hate grace. We count all things outside of Jesus as filth, but cling to our filth because it’s as comfortable as old leather.

Every time we get comfortable with our filth, God uses His good and wise Law to show us exactly what clinging to merit and works gets us: eternal death. The Law works repentance in order to prepare us to receive grace once again. The Gospel shows the Father’s grace. The Good News of Jesus Christ as our sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world declares us innocent of all sin before our heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit, working through the preached Word, through water in your baptism, through the true Body and Blood of Christ, applies this forgiveness on you and in you.

Even when you cry, “Hey, what about me?” and want your books audited to be sure you’ve done your part, recall that you are wrapped in Jesus Christ. He is victorious over sin and death for you. He gives His forgiveness to you as a gift. There is no tit for tat. There is only grace; the one-way street of God’s love in Christ delivered to the chief of sinners…even you.

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