by The Rev. Mark Buetow
People often think that the parables that Jesus tells are simple little stories about familiar things that He tells to illustrate a point. Except that the people in Jesus' parables are always crazy and don't do things like the real world at all! For example, what farmer sows seed willy-nilly all over the place? The farmers I've heard of plant the seeds in rows but the farmer in Jesus' parable just throws seed everywhere, like he's wasting it! And then there's the story of the guy who owned the vineyard and rented it out and then sent his servants to collect his cut. But the tenants beat them up and even killed some. So what does the owner do? Send his son? What was he thinking!? Or how about the Father who gives his son his inheritance—before he's even dead! Usually a parent says, "No, you have to wait 'til I'm dead to get whats coming to you." Today we have a parable of the kingdom of heaven that does the exact same thing: It isn't at all like real life. Today, companies are laying off! But here's this guy who not only goes and hires people all day long but pays them all the same at the end of the day? That's crazy! But crazy is what our Lord does! What He teaches us with the parable of the workers in the vineyard is, once again, that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. The Lord doesn't think like we think and He doesn't do things the way we do them. No, His way is what we call "The Gospel!"
The parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches us that God's grace isn't given out the way we would do it. Forgiveness of sins and salvation are given to us not because we've earned it. Not because we deserved it. Not because we're good people. Not because we're bad people. Not because we're better Christians than the Baptists or Methodists. Forgiveness and salvation are ours whether we've been in the church our whole lives or only just come into it. Forgiveness of sins and salvation are given to us without respect to our race or color or social status or income or good intentions. No, the parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches us that the forgiveness of sins and our salvation are given to us for one reason: the goodness of the vineyard owner. God's goodness is this: that He sends His Son to take our place and take away our sins. No matter who you are or what you've done, God's goodness is that Jesus goes to the cross in your place. Whether you've been in the vineyard all your life or only an hour, your eternal salvation in Jesus Christ is a gift.
That's how the Lord gives. Notice that the vineyard owner doesn't say, "I'll pay you what is fair." He says, "I'll pay you what is right," or, literally, what is "righteous." Remember what "righteous" means? It means, "Jesus takes your place." So the gifts that the Lord gives are based on His generosity. Your salvation is a gift given based not on your work but upon Jesus' work. It's given based on what He has done. The forgiveness of sins is given to you because of Christ's incarnation and birth, on account of His baptism and temptation, because of His arrest and trial and mockery and suffering and condemnation and death. Your forgiveness comes because Christ has borne your sins, bled and died for them on the cross and risen from the dead. Your forgiveness comes because of His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. In the parable, the guys who worked all day were angry that the master made the guys who only worked an hour "equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day!" That's the Gospel! In the Church, by your Baptism into Christ, God the Father has made you equal to Jesus who has done the work of keeping the commandments and suffering for our sins. We, who have done nothing worthy of God loving us or forgiving us are, by His grace, given what is Christ's: what He has earned and deserved by His life, death and resurrection.
And what happens when the Lord gives such generous gifts? What happens when the owner of the vineyard is gracious and generous with his money? What happens when those who work an hour are given the same as those who work all day? Well, what God's people usually do: they complain! They grumble! They murmur and mumble. Do those who work all day look see the generosity of the vineyard owner and give thanks? Do they say, "Wow! We've never seen such a thing! He's given us all the same! No one has heard of such a thing before! What a generous, kind vineyard owner!" No, they complain. They grumble, "Hey! They only worked an hour! You made them equal to us! That's not FAIR!" What happened when the Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt? When by His mighty power He brought them through the Red Sea and destroyed their enemies? What do they do? They grumble: "Did you bring us out into the wilderness just to kill us? So we can die of thirst?" Wah, wah, wah! How about us? We come week after week and receive the forgiveness of sins and do we go out rejoicing or grumbling? Are we happy to receive the forgiveness of sins are annoyed at the pastor for doing something we don't like? Are we full of joy at having heard God's Word or are we upset about how the church is being run? Do we rejoice at being together with our brothers and sisters in Christ or are we angry or annoyed or upset with someone else for what they've said or done to us. Do we run in the door with our sins to let Christ have them or do we go back out, still grumbling about all the things wrong with our lives and all the troubles and irritations the Lord seems to send us? There's repentance, there, brothers and sisters! For, after all, the vineyard owner finally tells the grumblers: "Is your eye evil because I'm good? Take your pay and get out of here!" Wow!
But wait. What does the Lord do for the grumblers? When those Israelites complained and whined in the wilderness, what does the Lord do? He tells Moses to strike the rock and water gushed out! That's what you've got coming, grumblers: water from the Rock. St. Paul tells us that Rock is Christ. Christ is struck for you so that blood and water flow out. For all of our grumbling and complaining and murmuring, our Lord washes us at the font and pours His blood into us from His cup. The same rock that quenched the thirst of grumbling Israelites is the same Rock whose water and blood now wash and feed us. Paul writes that the Israelites were all baptized in the Red Sea and then fed from the Rock. Right there, we see that the Lord doesn't leave us to starve and die in the heat of the day. Though we wander through the wilderness of this world and life, our Lord doesn't leave us stranded to grumble and complain and die! He gives us food and water in His holy church. The water of our Baptism. The food of His Word and Christ's body and blood. Paul warns us that the many of those grumbling Israelites died in the wilderness. There's a warning not to despise the Lord's gifts! But in every example of our sinful grumbling, we see that the Lord doesn't treat us as we deserve but in Christ gives us what we never deserved or earned: He forgives our grumbling and more than that, strengthens and sustains us with His holy gifts.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, nobody does things the way the Lord does. Nobody hires people at different times of the day and pays them all the same! Nobody goes out looking for people to work for him who just stand around all day! But we're not talking about the world here. We're talking about God's kingdom. And in God's kingdom, He doesn't do things the way the world does. The way of the world is selfishness and self-promotion, grumbling and complaining when our own standard of "fair" is not met. But in God's kingdom, He gives gifts generously. Undeserved. Unearned. For Christ's sake. On account of and because of what Christ has done for us and in our place. What joy that the Lord does not give us what is "fair!" Rather, He gives us what is righteous, and that means He gives us Jesus and all that is His. No matter how long you've been in the Lord's vineyard, all that Jesus has is yours. Thanks be to God the Father that He is such a vineyard owner in Christ! Amen.
Rev. Buetow is Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, IL. Pastor Buetow is Internet Services Executive and Editor of the Reflections.
Created: February 10th, 2009