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Vicar Kinne: “Who received the larger piece?”
Texts for Pentecost 17: Matthew 20:1-16, Philippians 1:12–14, 19–30, Isaiah 55:6–9
September 24, 2023


Two siblings come home from school one scorching hot day in August before their parents come home from work. It is custom, upon unlocking the doors and throwing their backpacks in the front hallway, for them to raid the kitchen for a snack. When they open the fridge there isn’t much worthy to them to snack on except for one lonely, prepackaged piece of stringed cheese. They both know that fighting would not solve the needs their taste buds so desire. So, what should they do? They at least have the sense to say to each other, “Okay, let’s share”. The next step in their liturgy of keeping the peace is nothing less than what we would expect them to do… they pull out a ruler to make sure that the portions are exactly the same. We know what the outcome is if everything is done right. The snack is cut evenly, and everyone feels like they were dealt with fairly. But golly, if one piece is cut even a millimeter off, there will be squabbling until mom and dad get home. It is incredible that we all know, from a young age, the sense of what being cheated and treated fair feels like. 

In Jesus’ teaching today, He speaks a parable that does not mesh well with what we view as fair; what we view as just. Would it not annoy you if you worked for 10 hours and someone else who seemed less qualified and unfit for the job worked for 1 hour yet they got paid the same amount as you did at the end of the day? That doesn’t seem fair. It seems odd. But when we look at this parable, we must look at it in a different light. Some may think Jesus is talking about money, and how a boss should pay his workers an unjust amount, but they are missing the point. They need to revisit what He is actually teaching; or better yet, who he is teaching.

Jesus tells this parable to His close disciples who are battling among themselves, “Who is the greatest in heaven?” Their egos are soaring higher than they can reach, and they can’t seem to get their heads out of the clouds. They are just not getting it. So, when Jesus gives them this parable, they quickly sympathize with the worker who feels cheated. Haven’t they been walking with Jesus His whole ministry? Haven’t they been sent into the vineyard, the world, to plant the seed of the faith in others, so that people may be ready for the day of harvest? Haven’t they been able to heal the sick and to cast out demons? Haven’t they made a name for themselves in all of Israel? Of course, they have. So, should they not receive more in heaven for their pious work than the people they served or even more so the people who reject them? It seems just. It seems fair. It makes sense, even to children, that whoever is in a higher position should receive a higher cut. But Jesus explains that this is not His way. The economy of what Jesus is talking about is not the same economy of the world. God’s ways are not our ways.

In His economy, everyone outside of Himself is equal. But what does that mean? Well, before Christ called His disciples to follow Him, just like everyone else, they lived in utter darkness. There was no light, no truth, no peace within them. They were all lost. Likewise, before being brought into the family of Christ in your baptism, you lived in darkness, you did not know the truth, and there was no peace within you. We were all equal in partaking in the sinful destruction handed to us through our corrupt parents. We are all equally put to shame. We, along with all the saints who lived in this sinful world, fall into the same category of needing salvation. It is not until Christ poured His blood out for our redemption, that He established a way for us to be put into a new category– Saved. 

An equal portion of His atoning sacrifice is given to everyone in the world. Jesus made it possible for His saving Gospel of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation to be delivered to all people. It is His desire to pay everyone the same wage in exchange for their sins, and that wage was His life. There is no bigger price. But some still choose not to receive God’s gift. They choose not to work in God’s vineyard and deny what He has to offer. 

But, before we point the finger and measure the shortcoming of the people who reject Christ for not believing, maybe we should examine and measure ourselves too. Have you sinned today? Have you followed every commandment God has given you? How wonderful would it be if everyone here has done nothing wrong today and have given everything they own for the sake of another like Christ did? How tremendous it would be if everyone here always bore the good fruit of the vine at work, at home, and even here at church. Sadly, the ugly truth is that even though we Christians know we have received Christ, we also know that we daily live short of God’s glory and need a constant exchange with Him. We call this living the life of the baptized. We know that we need to repent of our sins and receive His forgiveness through His body and blood. 

We are the siblings that want to take the bigger cut. We are the ones who love ourselves more than others. We want comfort, acceptance, fulfillment of all our inmost desires, control, power, and much and much more because of our sin. But God created a way for us to not only have the bigger cut but have the whole thing.

We are forgetful, and maybe it would be better for us to not identify ourselves as the worker who felt cheated, but maybe more so with the workers who refused work until the end of the day. Maybe we sometimes forget God’s promises and reject Him when we do wrong. We can ignore Him and live as though He never came to earth. We can ignore all evidence that points to His perfect existence, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. We can ignore it. But, fortunately, for our forgetful sake He comes around into our marketplace– our world and sends His workers out to remind us that we ignore our Father in heaven due to our sinfully corrupt natures. We become lazy in seeking God’s truth. Instead of looking to God’s Word for relief from this world and willingly seeking Jesus, we can become comfortable in our beds. We can justify coming to worship as a low priority in our lives and spend Sunday morning somewhere else, rather than here in church where God delivers His gifts to us. Missing church is dangerous because if you keep missing, over and over again, you will eventually not miss it.

We are the siblings that want to take the bigger cut. We are the ones who love ourselves more than others. We want comfort, acceptance, fulfillment of all our inmost desires, control, power, and much and much more because of our sin. But God created a way for us to not only have the bigger cut but have the whole thing. He gives us more than what the world has to offer, and there is nothing we can give worthy of exchange. The only thing we can do is receive His gifts and believe that He has given us eternal life. That is it! And thanks be to God that He does this work! Because without His willingness to give all that He had, there would be no way for us to have our debt paid off. We would crumble on the last day before a righteous and holy God. 

And when another person is brought into the church, we should celebrate with the saints in heaven over this one sinner who repented and God saved, rather than compare our loyalty to God in higher regard than that person. It doesn’t matter if they were cruel like St. Paul was before seeing Christ on the road to Emmaus, or if they denied Christ such as St. Peter did before the cross, or if they hurt you directly in some way, shape, or form. Christ still wants them to be saved, just as much as you. We all receive the same wage.

Since we all have the same pay, we also all receive the same Holy Spirit that calls us and guides us to live in Christian love. We can forgive each other when one feels cheated. We are able to share in the same joy, hope, and peace in believing that God will unite all of us with Him from the first in faith to the last. He pays all of us, even though we don’t deserve it. And thanks be to God, that He does this wonderful and gracious work! Amen.