Full Pay Every Time
Tuesday of Pentecost 16
26 September 2017
The picture that Jesus is drawing in Mt 20:1-16 is the kingdom of heaven. What will the workers in the kingdom be like? There are some who very early on in their lives have been called into the kingdom and work their whole lives, the whole twelve hours, that's the way the parable puts it. And what is our reward? What is our recompense? How are we to be paid?

We are paid purely and solely based on the master's, our God's, generosity. What if we were paid by God in accordance with what we are owed? What if God opened the tally sheets and said, "Okay, let's talk about this on the basis of your works, shall we? You think you've borne the heat of the day? Let's just see." And then, which of us would even be worth the day's wage? I suspect, I know, none of us would be. The Psalmist says, "If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand" (Ps 130:3)? I pray fervently that God does not enter into His account books with me and decide to judge me on the basis of my value or worth. For if He should do so, all I could do is stand before Him and say, "Dear God, I am an unfaithful servant." "We are worthy of none of the things for which we pray," as Martin Luther says.

It is amazing that the workers in the vineyards say, "You owe me" (Mt 20:11-12)! For if the master really dealt with us on the basis of our desserts, what he really owes us is eternal damnation. For that is what we have earned.

God doesn't work that way, thankfully. God works purely on the basis of generosity. He pays all of us the same, whether we're adult converts, or whether we've been baptized as infants and worked hard in the church our whole lives. It's all by generosity. Another word we might use for generosity is "grace." God's riches at Christ's expense. That's what grace means. And so really, the arrangement for paying the people of God is already worked out by God. It's already worked out in Christ, who put in a full day's work for all of us. He's already borne the heat of the day, he's already carried the sins of the world on His shoulders, and he's already earned a sufficient wage for us all.

When it is time for us to stand before the judgment seat of God, God will pay us each the perfect and absolutely generous gift of eternal life. Have some of us worked harder than others in the kingdom? Yes. Should that matter? No. Because we know that no matter how hard we've worked, what God gives us He gives us as a gift.

Ultimately, we're not even talking about pay at all, are we? If this is given by way of generosity, then we're talking purely about a gift. God continues to give His people His gifts, showering them down. Whatever God gives as a gift is a perfect gift. It's a gift that is entirely complete, even apart from us. Notice the eleventh-hour workers, who in no way can be said to have earned their day's wage, get all of it. So also those of us who are very weak in faith, who struggle, who maybe haven't been Christians all our lives, needn't fear that on the day of judgment, on the day of reckoning, that there will be anything less than a full gift of eternal life for us earned by Christ. 

You see all of this depends on God. Our problem all too often is that we ask, "How much of this depends on me, God?" That always turns us to pride and we're like the ones who bore the heat of the day and say, "Hey God, wait a minute. If you're giving eternal life to those who have believed but an hour, then shouldn't we get something better? Shouldn't there be accolades and praise for us? Shouldn't there be glory and honors and a brass band? Shouldn't there be parades and medals? Don't I even get a participation trophy?"

God simply answers, "What more do you want than eternal life and perfect bliss with me in heaven? What more do you want than a rest that cannot be imagined or compared to anything on this side of the grave?" God has given all. We get the full rate every time.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"The treasure [of the gospel] is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt 20:16).

"The gospel destroys those things which exist, it confounds the strong, it confounds the wise and reduces them to nothingness, to weakness, to foolishness, because it teaches humility and a cross. Thus Psalm 9 says, 'You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever' (Ps 9:5). Yet all those whose pleasure is in earthly things and in their own doing shrink back before this rule of the cross, complaining, 'This is a hard saying' (Jn 6:60). Therefore, it is not surprising that this saying of Christ is most odious to those who desire to be something, who want to be wise and mighty in their own eyes and before men, and who consider themselves to be 'the first.'" 

Martin Luther, Explanations of the Ninety-Five Theses, 63
Matthew 20:1-16

For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' So the last will be first, and the first last. (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You have made the first last and the last first. Send Your Spirit to us that we might be last and the servant of all to have You raise us up. Break the will of all who put themselves forward in Your kingdom that their pride would be broken and in all humility be brought to repentance and a complete dependence upon You. Amen.

For Stephen Skinner, who has undergone an appendectomy, that he would recover his full strength and be brought to a complete healing by the mercy of God

For Sebastian Graf, that the Lord who gives breath and life would strengthen him

For the catechumens of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would set their hearts on God's Word and confess it faithfully in the world
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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