Let us pray: Dear Savior, in an ever-changing world filled with changing emotions, changing standards, changing values and changing attitudes about literally everything, how comforting it is to come to church and be given Your truths which never change. How comforting it is to be able to hold unto truths about life, death, heaven, and everything in between. Yes, upon You, the Rock of our salvation, we continue to build our faith, our lives, our families and our eternal future. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE TRUTH UNCHANGING!
TEXT: Matthew 20: 1-16
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
The old “double standard” is alive and well in America today. Everywhere you look you see it employed. And all you can do is shake your head over the hypocrisy of it all. Every one of us has been its victim. You get a ticket for speeding, but your neighbor down the street gets off with a warning because they have a friend in the local police department. The local land developer with connections gets a waver to build where it was never allowed before, but you can’t seem to get a building permit without jumping through countless hoops. The boss’ relative gets the plum job at the office with almost zero experience, but you, with years on the job get passed over.
We moan about the double-standard a lot. And yet, we’re all guilty of using it, too. Most parents willingly accept their own child’s version of a story, but quickly discount the neighbor kid’s alternative version. We moan when rules impact our lives and expect them to be bent, just a little, to accommodate us; but we shake our heads when other’s try to do the same thing. No mere mortal has a corner on the hypocrisy department because all mere mortals are sinners.
I suppose these are the reasons why this little parable by Christ is so wonderful and thought-provoking! To human sensibilities what this owner of the vineyard does—paying all the workers the exact same wage—seems unfair. And yet, since that wage is really the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, it’s quite wonderful. And when applied to you and me, it’s even more than wonderful! That’s why each of us should:
REJOICE THAT GOD NEVER EMPLOYS A DOUBLE-STANDARD!
I’ve worked in a factory and punched a time clock. I’ve done manual labor and filled out time sheets. As a boy, I had my own business—delivering papers and collecting for them (ugh), and doing lawn care. I’ve also spent years scraping and painting countless houses. In every instance if someone had come unto the job site and skipped the hot, sweaty work during the bulk of the day, working only an hour or two to my 8; and if that person had received the exact same wage as I did, it would upset me. I would call it: unfair. And if it continued, I would probably look for another job. I’ll bet you would, too.
So now Jesus tells just such a story. The owner of a vineyard needs workers. The crop is ripe and needs to be picked. He goes to the market-place and finds some men. They agree to work for $100 a day. We would call them: day laborers. Three hours later, around 9 a.m. he goes to the market place again and finds others lazing around. He hires them with the caveat: “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” Do they also expect to receive $100? I doubt it. But they trust the owner and go to work. The same thing happens again at noon and three p.m. They, too, are hired and go to work. Finally, about 5 o’clock with only an hour left of daylight, he finds a few more fellows lounging around without work. He hires them, as well. 6 p.m. comes. Accounts need to be settled. The owner tells his foreman: “Pay them starting with the last hired to the first hired.” Those who only worked an hour come and are amazed that they receive a full $100! Talk about a generous owner! Every single group receives the exact same wage after that. And finally, when those hired first come, they are eager for their money since they think: “It’s only fair that we receive more because we’ve done much more work.” But, no, they too, receive the agreed upon sum: $100. They’re upset and angry. You can almost hear their plea: “What about us? It’s unfair! What kind of double, triple, quadruple, and even quintuple standard are you using?”
How does the owner respond? “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” And then Christ adds the kicker: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Parables are earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. So, what’s the meaning of this story? It is this: We should all rejoice over the fact that God never employs a double-standard when it comes to handing out the forgiveness of sins!
Now forgiveness isn’t a payment due us because we labor hard for the Lord in this life. Those who say otherwise are missing the point of this parable and the point of the entire Bible. Think of that Pauline passage: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift from God, not of works, so that no one can boast.” Grace is God’s undeserved love for us in Christ. We don’t earn it because Christ already did earn it with His perfect life lived in our place and His death on the cross in our place. In love and total generosity God the Father freely gives us such forgiveness and makes it our very own possession by putting the faith to accept it into our hearts. Unless and until you come to realize and accept that fact, you will be tempted to accuse God of a double-standard and walk away from Him in frustration.—Just like some of those workers in our parable.
The second point of this lesson is that God calls workers into His kingdom throughout life. He is always looking for lost, forlorn, unemployed sheep. His love for them is so big in Christ that He calls throughout an entire lifetime. Some come to Him at infancy during baptism–others as older children. Some come as teenagers or when they are struggling in their twenties. Still others are embraced by Him when they have children for the first time or when a middle-age illness grips them. And finally, there are even those who on their deathbed hear of His call to service in His kingdom and desiring heaven, turn to Him in humble thanks. Should lifelong believers expect a greater gift than short-timers? Should they expect more love, more forgiveness? If God acted that way, wouldn’t He be playing favorites? And if He did so, would unconditional love still be unconditional?
No, God treats all of us the same in Christ. He loves all of us and forgives all of us. Our timetable is earth-bound, but His is eternal and knows no such limits. And what a blessing that is! For it means that everyone can take Him at His word and truly bank on it! One final thought: long time believers should never become envious of others. For although we all receive the same “wage”, long-timers possess the comforting knowledge of Christ’s goodness throughout their entire lives. They work and labor for the Lord with certainty over the end result: heaven. The late-called believers have lived for years without that certainty and been emotionally troubled by their lack of it. So, why not be generous like our Lord and be grateful that they also now live in the glow of God’s grace?! Rejoice that God doesn’t employ a double standard when it comes to saving you! Amen