“ENDURING THE HEAT OF THE DAY”
St. Matthew 20.1-16
17 February 2019
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“And on receiving the denarius they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘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.’”
This parable comes right after Peter asks Jesus what he and all the disciples will receive since they have left all to follow Him.
Jesus does not deny that those who have left houses, or fathers, or mothers, or whatever else for the sake of the Gospel, will receive a greater gift than those who may have only been called to leave a few things behind.
Nevertheless, both will, if they endure until the end, receive eternal life.
After answering Peter’s question Jesus continues, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This is exactly how our Lord’s parable ends today: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” So it is bookended by the same declaration of Jesus.
This parable, then, does not deal with the special gifts those who may have given up more for the sake of the Gospel will receive. Rather, it is a warning especially to those who have given up much, to not become prideful.
All the laborers in the vineyard, before their call by the master, were idle. The Greek makes this clear, for another way this word could be translated is useless.
Each and every one of these laborers, before the call of the master to work in His vineyard, were useless. If they had not been called to work for Him, they would not have received their denarius, which was the equivalent of a day’s wage. Thus, they and their families would likely have starved to death.
This hiring to work in the vineyard was not insignificant. It was a matter of life and death.
Therefore, we can see the great mercy and compassion on the part of the master, calling those who did nothing to deserve it, and giving them a place in His vineyard. To work it. Not to remain idle there, but to be busy. So that they might not starve.
This also shows us how close the laborers hired at the eleventh hour were to death. At the last minute, they were called and given the same grace and mercy as those at the first hour.
Think, for a moment, if you went into work, put in a full day and some slacker came in last minute and got the exact same paycheck as you. This is exactly what causes the laborers hired at the first hour to complain.
But pay attention to the mercy of the master. He does not want any to perish. He wants all to have life in his vineyard. To live thankfully in it.
However, those hired at the first will have none of it. After seeing these “slackers” come in last minute and receive the same pay, all they want to do is complain. They have forgotten the mercy that they were shown by the master. That if He had never hired them out, they would have not been able to buy food, and so would have starved to death.
And so they grumble, “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.”
Because they have forgotten the mercy of the master and his compassion towards them, they only focus on the fact that they have had to bear all these burdens. They pay no attention to the fact that if they had not been hired out, they’d be as good as dead. No denarius, no food. No food, starvation.
Their complaint echoes that of Israel in our Old Testament reading for today: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
Do you not see how idiotic this claim is? Why did you give us a job so that we could feed our families? Why did you take us out of the place where we were slaves? They would rather have died than bear burdens, which in comparison, were nothing compared with what they had or were going to receive.
So Jesus warns His disciples and us, the last will be first, and the first last.
The question now turns to us. And so I ask all of you, but especially those who have been Lutherans or Christians their whole lives: Do you complain when you see those who make it in last minute because they receive the same reward of eternal life?
Do you grumble that they got to live it up longer, indulging their sinful flesh, while you were called to give those up? That you had to bear burdens and suffer on account of the Gospel, while they lived a carefree life?
Or have you been so focused on what greater reward you will get since you’ve labored longer? Because you’ve born more burdens and scorching heat?
Do you therefore begrudge the generosity of your Master? Have you, like Israel and those hired at the first, forgotten the great mercy and compassion of your Lord to give you work in His vineyard? Have you forgotten that you too would have starved to death eternally had He not given you work?
Repent, therefore! Repent and remember how you too were just as lost as they were. Just as useless. Don’t let your mind become puffed up as if it were due to your great skill that you were hired out to work in the vineyard.
Remember that it was out of His pure grace and mercy that you were brought in at all.
Do not desire to return to Egypt, once again to indulge the enticements of the flesh. Do not grumble when burdens and scorching heat are brought upon you.
When bearing whatever burdens you may, don’t question as did Israel, “Is God really among us, or not?” For did our Lord not say, I will never leave you or forsake you? Did He not say, behold I am with you always even until the end of the age? Is not this same Lord among us now speaking His Word to us? Will He not shortly feed us with His very body and blood?
That same body and blood that cleanses us and hires us out to work in His vineyard, so that we might not die?
All Christians will have burdens to bear; some more, some less. Our Lord has promised us that. But when the burdens and scorching heat of this life come upon you, don’t let it lead you to question whether or not the Lord is still among you or not.
Don’t let it lead you to grumble at the generosity of your Master. To leave the vineyard. To desire life outside it. For outside of the vineyard nothing exists but eternal death.
Remember how the Lord showed you mercy and compassion. How He hired you out, bringing you into His vineyard through your Baptism and gave you new life. And how He makes sure that this life is sustained, so that you are not in jeopardy of starving to death.
Therefore He feeds you with His very body and blood. Thereby reminding you constantly of His mercy and compassion. That He is indeed still among us. That He has not and will not leave or forsake us.
So that no matter what burdens or scorching heat may come, you may endure. Because HE has endured it all.
May God grant us all lively hearts that work joyfully in His vineyard and desire many more to join us, no matter what the hour.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.