On the Generosity of God (Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20)

Matthew 20:1-16

Septuagesima (Feb. 20, 2011)

Rev. Todd Peperkorn

Messiah Lutheran Church

Kenosha, Wisconsin


TITLE: “On the Generosity of God”

Grace to you and peace form God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter twenty, the parable of the worker, His wages, and the generous master.

First of all, let’s be clear that I didn’t pick this text. This is just the text that came up for this Sunday in the church year. So don’t blame me; blame the lectionary.

There are a number of elements to this parable from our Lord which seem to tug at issues facing our community today. We’ll touch on some of these, but more importantly,we will get to the point that our Lord is trying to make in delivering this parable to us.


So just to set the stage, let’s rehearse the events in our text again. The master of the house goes out into the marketplace the first thing in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. He finds the men and offers them a denarius for the days labor, and they go in work. He then goes out again at nine, at noon, and at three in the afternoon. Each time he goes he offers them a denarius for their days work. Then at the eleventh hour, virtually the end of the day, he sees a group of men again in the marketplace, asks them why they are idle, and offers them a denarius a day for their work. Everyone works until the end of the day. Then at the end of the day, the foreman calls the workers into the office and gives each of them a denarius for their days work.

Now it doesn’t take a labor expert to figure out what is going to happen next. The ones who worked all day long are angry at the master, because he paid them the same amount as the lazy slobs who only worked an hour. The text ends with this:

And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” [1]

Now there are a number of things that are disturbing about this text, and frankly, it is easy to take our current situation regarding the Wisconsin budget and try to apply it back to this text. It would be easy to say that the master is being unfair, and if these workers had, uh, bargained collectively, they would have all benefited from the process. It would also be easy to say that the money and the work that the master does is his own. Let him pay people like he wants. It’s his money.

While we can see arguments for both sides on that, looking at the parable this way ultimately is unsatisfying, because we can easily miss the point that Jesus is trying to make in this parable. This is why I am always suspicious of people who want to take the Bible and try to make a nice, clean, straight application from there to here. We have to be very careful in studying God’s Word that we remember it is GOD’S WORD, not ours. What is His point? What is He intending to teach us and give us? That has to be the question.

So to answer that question, we have to learn a little context. The Jews in Jesus’ day -and this peculiar group of Jews called the Pharisees especially- they believed that God had chosen them above all others. They were, after all, the chosen people, called through Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to possess the land and to be God’s people. God had reiterated this through Moses and the Exodus out of Egypt back to the promised land. Even after the return of the Exiled from Babylon, the Jews firmly believed that they were special.

Now make no mistake about it. They were special, but not for the reasons they though. They were special because through them the Son of David would be born, who would take away His people’s sins. Through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed. Yes, these people were special, but they were special because they had something to give away, not because they had something to keep to themselves.

And that brings us around to the point of the parable. The kingdom of heaven is like this. Is it fair that one man works 12 hours, another works 1 hour, and they both get paid the same? Nope. Certainly not fair. It’s not reasonable at all. Now stop thinking about Madison here and start thinking about the Kingdom of God.

Saint Paul writes in Romans three that the wages of sin is death. All of us like to think that we are good people. I am moral, I am upright. I haven’t killed anyone or stolen from anyone. And yet what is abundantly clear from God’s perspective is that because of your sinfulness, because you are riddled with evil and impurity from start to finish, what you deserve is death, eternal death. That’s fair. That’s the Law, and the Law makes no exceptions, it doesn’t care about extenuating circumstances or what kind of childhood you had or who your parents are or what you do at church or anywhere else. You are defined by your sinfulness. So if we were to be fair, we would all die eternally. For remember, James in his epistle says that whoever has kept the Law at every turn but failed in one point is guilty of it all.

If God is about fairness, we are toast, every one of us. But God is not about fairness. He is about generosity, as our text puts it, or grace as St. Paul puts it (Eph. 2:8-9). God’s generosity means that whether you have been a Christian for an hour or a lifetime, it doesn’t matter. God is not going to give you what you deserve. He’s going to give you what Jesus deserves. He gives you eternal life, forgiveness of sins, salvation and hope in His name.

We are not about fair in God’s Kingdom. We’re not about rights, at least not in the political sense. By God’s grace, we are about mercy. God is merciful to you, not fair. God wants only to place you in the vineyard, so that you may live under Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

Today turn away from your own views of fairness and turn to the mercy of God. God has big plans for you in His Son. He is going to use you in all sorts of crazy ways, to give out His mercy to a world in desperate need of help. Listen to Him. Hear His Word, believe, and live as though God matters most, and that He has given you an abundance of gifts to give away for His sake. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 20:11–16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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