In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Historically the Sunday liturgy was anticipated on Saturday night at Vespers, the early evening prayer service. The Psalms and Readings laid the groundwork for the Sunday Communion Service as well as the theme that would run through the whole week. If we had Saturday Vespers, yesterday you would have heard Genesis 3, the Fall into sin. That would have helped us understand the theme for today by revealing that there are no good works in which we can boast because everything is tainted by sin, and that the only way that ancient curse can be abolished is by the grace of God. It’s that note of grace which runs through every part of today’s Service, which you hopefully noticed in the hymn we just sang, since we sang the word “grace” eighteen times in one hymn. In the Introit, grace appeared as God hears our voice, even as we are in the midst of death. In the Collect we implored God to deliver us from the punishment we justly deserve. In the Old Testament, God graciously gave the children of Israel water even though they contended with Moses and accused God of ignoring their needs. St. Paul reminded us in the Epistle that God fed the people of Israel—physically and spiritually—by His very presence among them, despite their sin. Even though most of them did not make it into the Promised Land, God did not forsake them for their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Finally, the Gospel reveals the glorious grace of God, that He gives in lavish ways we could never deserve. Though they deserved very little, if anything, those last workers hired earned a full day’s wages for one hour of work. God is even more generous with us than that landowner with his workers because God gives forgiveness to us without any work on our part, giving us salvation without any merit of our own, completely apart from our works. As we begin our journey towards the cross, this is the first lesson the Church teaches us, to give us strength along the way—everything that we will witness in the death of Jesus is done for us, out of divine love, and is given to us freely by grace.
As we listen to the Parable in today’s Gospel, the important person to pay attention to is the landowner. Though this is often called “The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard,” it’s not about the laborers at all. If we ask the question “What is the landowner like” as we read through the Parable, we will learn what God is like.
The Parable begins with the landowner going out to hire laborers for his vineyard. He wants people in his vineyard, meaning, his mission, purpose, and desire is to gather people. This is just like the divine decree on the sixth day of Creation—“Let Us make man in Our image.” God didn’t want the creation for Himself. He didn’t need it, and still doesn’t need it today. Rather, He wanted someone to whom He could give His good gifts, so He made man to be the object of His divine love. But that didn’t stop in Genesis 1, just like the landowner didn’t go out only once to gather workers. He repeats his action four more times in the Parable. God gathers people of every time and place into His Kingdom. The landowner agrees to give them “whatever is right,” that is, he will treat his workers fairly. But as we saw at the end of the Parable, he did anything but treat them fairly! He treated them with generosity, in a lavish way that makes no sense to human reason or business practice. God is the same. As if it were possible, He becomes more loving, more generous as time goes on. Just like the landowner gave a day’s pay for one hour of work, God gives every repentant sinner the same forgiveness, the same grace regardless of when they first believed, be it from childhood or on the deathbed, regardless of how good or evil they were in their lives. God gives in an abundance that can never be anticipated or even comprehended.
But those hired first don’t care for the landowner’s practice. They complain because it’s not fair. We can all relate to that. We know what it’s like to be paid less than we ought, or to see someone else get the credit for work we’ve done. Imagine life for the first hearers of this Parable: the Pharisees. The Pharisees aren’t the sort of Disney villains we often make them out to be. The Pharisees were the best of the best, the people who make the most saintly grandmother look like a gang leader. They spent their lives in the Temple, saying prayers, giving offerings without grumbling or withholding a penny, obeying the laws. And then along come John the Baptist and Jesus, and suddenly prostitutes and tax collectors are being welcomed. Sinners are being forgiven, but they don’t deserve it! Even Gentiles are being welcomed! The Pharisees are upset because they put in their time, paid their dues, and now these evil people, the outcasts of the world are made equal to God’s chosen people!
So they complained against the landowner. It’s not fair, and we know exactly how they feel, and have made their same complaints right alongside them. But remember—this Parable is about the landowner, it’s about God. He’s not interested in being fair, He’s interested in being generous. He gave to those first workers exactly what they had agreed to! But since they were so unhappy with His generosity God tells them “Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.” And that is the worst thing we can hear from God: “Go your way.” God loves all men and is generous and kind, so the worst punishment is to be dismissed from the Lord’s presence. But God’s goodness is the last thing we see when we think we’re being gipped, when we’re not getting what we think we deserve.
So, what should we take from this Parable? Do not ask God to be fair to you, or to give you what you deserve. If God were fair and just in how He deals with you, you would be sent straight to hell. If He gave you what you deserve, you would have more grief and misery than anything you have right now.
So do not ask God to be fair, ask Him to be who He truly is—good, loving, kind, merciful, and gracious. The Lord wants you in His Kingdom, in His vineyard. He wants to give to you in ways that are ridiculous to the world and in ways that could never make sense to our logic or understanding of what is right. He gives these gifts to you here in this life, the First Article gifts that sustain this body and life—house and home, clothing, shoes, family, animals, talents, employment, and all the other things we don’t even think about. And most importantly He gives you Second Article gifts—forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation won for you by Jesus’ perfect life, innocent suffering and death, and His resurrection from the dead. Because He has given you these gifts here in this life, in the life to come you will not get what you deserve. You will get what you could never earn and could never deserve. In His generosity, the Lord will make you an heir of grace free and boundless His Kingdom, giving a place in His vineyard forever.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).