Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝
Peter had wanted to know what he was going to get out of all this following Jesus. The next two disciples, James and John, also former fishermen, were pushed by their mother to snatch the top two positions in Christ’s kingdom. These disciples were already thinking about their payday—when all this self-sacrifice of theirs would cash in. Have you thought of this, wondering whether you have given up everything; given it all away to those in need; and taken up the Cross that you have set before you to follow Jesus? Whoever loves his life will lose it—And whoever loses his life for my sake will keep it for eternal life. So, it seemed natural that, on behalf of the Apostles, St. Peter would point out that they, all twelve of them, had in fact given up everything to follow Jesus. Peter was wondering what would become of them, and what would they get.
In answer, Jesus promised His disciples that, in the Resurrection, when He would sit on His throne of glory, they would also be enthroned alongside of Him, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. But He would have more to teach them, and you. On the surface, Jesus’ parable teaches that the inheritance of everlasting life is not earned (nor can it be), but it is given and received by the grace of God, and, as such, it is given equally to all of the disciples of Jesus, no matter what their sacrifices and service. When it comes right down to it, the lowliest and least worthy servant of Christ will be made equal to the Holy Apostles and saints, those Christians who labored long and hard, who bore the heat of the day, and who were martyred for their faith. Their glory as Apostles is surely unique, but their inheritance in the Kingdom of God is no more nor less than yours; for it is the wage of His grace.
That is what the Parable teaches. But now, then, what does this mean for you? Well, first of all, some clarifications are in order. The Householder is the Lord, of course. And the vineyard signifies His people: Old Testament Israel to begin with, but also His Church of the New Testament. The workers who are sent into the vineyard, therefore, (as in similar parables,) are first of all the Prophets and Apostles, and the servants of the Word of Christ even to this day; and, further, those workers in the vineyard represent all of the disciples of Jesus Christ, who are called and sent to serve their neighbor within their God-given vocations (not only in the church, but at home, at work, in the community, and so forth).
It should especially be noted that the coin that the workers received—the denarius—was roughly equivalent to a normal day’s wages; it would be like the owner handing out 50- or 100-dollar bills. This so-called “wage” signifies the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance of everlasting life. Clearly, it is not a wage that can ever be earned by any amount of work. Be careful to notice, especially, that even for those first workers in the Parable, they are promised to receive the denarius before they have been hired and before they did any work.
You see, the thing of it is, this Parable is not about coming to faith, but about the good works that come forth in your daily life from your faith. According to the Bible, good works are principally the service rendered by you Christian disciples within many different vocations, and it is in this way that you serve the Lord (in faith) and you serve your neighbors (in love). Thus, the Parable portrays the way in which good works and Christian service follow after God’s grace and gift of faith have already come into your life.
The parable talks about differences in the amount of time that the employees worked, and those differences pertain to the differences that there are between the many and various earthly vocations, labors and obligations of all Christian disciples. As God Himself designed it, these things differ from one person to the next, according to his or her respective talents and abilities, opportunities, and stations in life. The vineyard is thus served in a wide variety of ways, just like the Body of Christ has different parts to it and all of them work together in their respective functions.
It is important to note, that, in spite of the differences that there are in types of service, each and every vocation is still arising from and according to the Word of the Lord. This you can see from the Parable, because each and every worker is called and sent by the Householder. In each case, He says to them, “Go, and work in My vineyard!” That’s what creates the job, you might say.
In that light, the Lord in His holy Law of the Ten Commandments presents you with a probing question straight out of the Parable: Why are you just standing there idle?
It is simply not true that “no one has hired you.” Each and every one of you has been called and sent to some duty of service, which differs from one person to the next, but, nevertheless, God the Householder has said to you, “Go!” What is more, you don’t have to go searching for what you are sent to do, you don’t even have to wait for a special sign from God for Him to speak directly to your heart because His will is clearly set before you in your vocations, whatever they might be, and in the needs of your neighbors, whoever and wherever you might find them. So also do you have set before you the needs of your congregation, which is, of course, very much a part of the vineyard, and there’s simply no excuse for standing idle while there is work to be done. The fact of the matter is, there is an urgent need for workers in this part of God’s vineyard.
Now, at the end of the day, the bottom line is that your sins have been forgiven, and that you are called through faith to receive the inheritance of everlasting life, regardless of how much or how little you have worked, and regardless of how well you have done. You’re going to receive the same paycheck that the Prophets and Apostles of the Lord get, whether you have done much or little. When that payday comes, by the grace of God, all are equal. But in the meantime, here on earth, there are these differences. They are differences in vocation, differences according to the Word and Will of God. Then again, some differences stem from the fact of our sinfulness. There are some who simply do more than others, and some who do little or nothing at all; some may well be lazy and irresponsible (as are we all at times), while others may well become full of sinful pride over their own contributions and resentful of everyone else (and again, we all fall prey to these temptations, too).
This sinful attitude of pride and resentment—such as we see portrayed in those first workers in the Parable—is actually an expression of works righteousness, I must get what I deserve, and I demand recognition before God in heaven. This sinful opinion and false belief sets the individual over and against the Lord God. It is arrogant, demanding, ungrateful, selfish, rude, and quarrelsome. And, sad to say, it is the attitude that all of us possess in our sinful hearts, and which we exercise more often than not in our dealings with God and each other.
Another temptation makes use of reasoning something like this: just as every worker in the Parable gets the same wage, if it doesn’t affect your eternal reward how much you work and serve in God’s vineyard of His kingdom, then Why should any of us work or serve at all? The answer is, emphatically, Not for the sake of earning something more from God. For one thing, what more could you hope to gain than the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life and salvation, all of which are given to you freely, by the grace of God, already? Besides, you cannot earn these things in any case, much less anything beyond these most important gifts and benefits!
But no, you work and serve for two simple reasons: First and foremost, because the Lord has called you—in your vocations—and He has sent you to serve in His vineyard; so you do it for the sake of the Lord. And second, because your neighbors, including your fellow church members and visitors, need your help and service; so you work and serve for the sake of your neighbor, as well. There are no other reasons.
Now, it is not for you, nor anyone else, to pick and choose where and how you ought to be working and serving in the vineyard. That is determined by the call and sending of the Lord, that is to say, by your station in life and your unique vocation. And, as Jesus says elsewhere, even if you were to serve perfectly and faithfully your entire life, you would still have done no more than what it is your duty and responsibility to do as a servant of the Lord. He simply worked in you.
In reality, though, you have not served perfectly and faithfully (no matter how long or how hard you may have worked). No, you have too often served yourself instead of the Lord, instead of serving others for the sake of the Lord. And too often, when you have done your duty outwardly, going through the motions, you have done so with a bitter and resentful heart, or with a prideful and presumptuous heart. Or, then again, how many days have you preferred to stand idle in the world’s marketplace, instead of working at all? Maybe you’ve gotten tired of serving after so many long years; or maybe you’ve made excuses for why you really shouldn’t be expected to do anything more—you should be served instead; or maybe you figure it’s someone else’s turn to love their neighbor— (doesn’t that sound ludicrous?)
It should be clear enough from the Parable that the first workers in the vineyard are not relieved of their duties when the later workers are sent out; rather, everyone is called and sent to work together until the day is done, until the night comes when no man can work. And, to the point, everyone the Householder finds is called and sent to work in the vineyard (even if only for the final hour of the day). So, frankly, there are no excuses, and you are convicted by the question: Why do you stand idle?
Yet, in spite of your unfaithfulness and less than perfect service, you also (even you!) are considered equal to the Prophets and Apostles, and you receive the inheritance of everlasting life. Not because you (nor anyone else) has earned such a wage, but solely by the free grace of God, for Jesus’ sake, who has made Himself last, in order to serve you and all the rest with His own hard labor unto death. Here’s how Jesus’ work day went:
In the early morning, He was hauled before Pontius Pilate and the crowd; and from the third hour until the sixth hour, He was interrogated and mocked; and from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, He suffered in your place upon the Cross; and at the eleventh hour He was buried in the tomb—and after fulfilling the Sabbath rest He rose again unto life everlasting.
Indeed, He has done it all. He has worked the entire day. He has borne the entire heat and burden. And He has truly earned the wage of forgiveness and eternal life for you (and me) and for all people. For He Who is the First, has made Himself to be the Last—and the Servant of all—in order that you, who would otherwise be the least and the last and the lost, might inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
What is more, and most wondrous (and wonderful) of all, He has done all of this—for you (and for me and for all)—for the sake of His own holy love, out of the goodness of His own divine heart, by His grace alone. There was no outside motivation that prompted or compelled Him to do it. There was no merit or worthiness in any of us. There was nothing to be gained for Himself, as though to make Himself better, or as though to improve His lot, which He didn’t need. No, He does it all for you by grace, because He wants not to be served, but to serve you: to save you, and to give you His eternal life. He does it all for you by grace, because He is good, and His mercy endures forever. He is free to do with His own things as He so desires, according to His good and gracious will.
So take note, fellow believers, that He has desired to make you equal—not only to the Prophets and Apostles who have labored long and hard ahead of you—but equal to Himself, as though you too were the Son of the Living God, because He has taken your place under the Cross, that you might share His Resurrection and His Life everlasting. So, here receive with thanksgiving the denarius from His hand, which He has earned for you by His own hard work and bloody sweat. Take, and eat, the very Body that has borne the entire burden of your sin and the heat of judgment; and drink from the Fruit of the Vine, which is His holy and precious blood, poured out for you, and for the many, for the forgiveness of every sin.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.