Rejoicing in a Generous God
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
To read Scripture faithfully, every text of the Bible must be read while keeping in mind what the Bible as a whole teaches, especially keeping in mind God’s will and His work of salvation. Much of the confusion caused by differing interpretations of the Bible occurs when texts are pulled out of their context and made to say something that don’t actually say. Seldom has context been more important than with this parable of the grumbling workers. What had just happened in the verses immediately preceding this text was that a rich young man had come to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him that he must keep the commandments; and when the young man responded that he had done so his whole life, Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus was showing how this young man had a god besides the true God; he worshiped and treasured his wealth. Jesus watched this young man walk away, saying to His disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And can’t you imagine Peter’s face clouding over with a mixture of doubt and irritation as this sinks in? “Wait a minute! We have left everything to follow you. Doesn’t that count for anything?” But Jesus assured them that they had not lost a thing; they had only gained. And then Jesus launched right off into the parable that is our Gospel for the day.
Do you see it? This parable is aimed at the sin that dwells within us all, when we are inclined to think too highly of all that we do for the Lord, and yet not highly enough of God’s grace. This parable is a poisoned arrow aimed straight at our hearts of pride. It speaks to that horrible temptation to think that God owes us because of our work in His kingdom. It speaks to that temptation to anger that God would actually grant the same eternal life to those who haven’t sat through hours of tedious church meetings, or who haven’t taught Sunday School, or who haven’t endured the anxieties of caring for church property; who haven’t “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat,” to use the words of the Gospel.
God brings in some notorious sinner who has squandered his whole life in open rebellion and sin, and enjoyed all the pleasures this life has to offer, and, in the last hour, God saves him and gives him the same eternal life. This parable is like a nuclear missile aimed straight at our grumbling and complaining, our arrogance and our self-chosen piety. And we are right there with Peter and the others, imagining that God owes us. What delusion!
And the answer the owner of the vineyard gives to the grumblers is one that stings, as well. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” No one is good, no one except that gracious owner of the vineyard, who loves to give! He is good! We are all in the position of being debtors before God. If eternity for us depended on our perfect keeping of the commandments of God, we would all be instantly destroyed—especially those who think they have fully kept the Law. If we haven’t been serving God freely and joyfully, gladly doing what He commands—and none of us can consistently say that—then we have only been offering God begrudging service, complaining about having “borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
Not so, however, with Jesus! He kept all the commandments with joy and gladness. He did not only outwardly conform; His heart desired to keep them and to please His Father. He is the One who is good. And this good One is also immensely generous. He gives to us who grumble and complain His own goodness to wear, to live in, to grow in, to cherish. That is the goodness He wrapped around you at the Baptismal font. That is the goodness He places in your mouth at the altar, where, to quote the Psalmist, you “taste and see that the Lord is good.” That is the goodness that sounds in your ears from His Word. That is the goodness of the One who is generous to all who believe in Him, who will set aside claims of what they think God owes them, and simply receive from Him the gift of eternal life.
This parable puts us all in the same place when we stand before God. We have all failed the commandments of God, and yet we are all offered the gift of eternal life, a gift received only by faith, through the generosity of Him who tells this parable. Speaking once more of the importance of context, remember this: as these words were being spoken, Jesus was only days away from Calvary where, on the cross, He assumed a debt He did not owe. And He gladly paid that debt so that His generosity might cover our sin and reshape us as people who simply and humbly rejoice in the mercy and generosity of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.