Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read, sometimes called the parable of the generous landowner.
As we hear this parable, I was reminded in Bible Class on Wednesday of how there is a very fitting interpretation of this, which I think is clear in the story. The interpretation is that the differing workers represent, in a sense, those who come to the faith at varying times in their lives, and so work varying amounts of times for the kingdom of God. So, you get those who are baptized as infants and believe their whole life, then you get those who come to faith at or near their death, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Despite these varying efforts, the reward is the same: the eternal joy of new life with the Lord. I think that interpretation makes great logical sense. However, if you can remember what I preach on a certain text from year to year, you might not be able to recall me preaching on that understanding. I don’t remember that I have. Why not? Because I don’t think that’s something we really struggle with.
Think about it. How many of you would begrudge some one joining Grace here in their 90’s who had never been a Christian? Knowing you all, I don’t think you would. I think you would rejoice with our Lord that they are receiving the forgiveness of sins and we’ll be with them in the eternal glory of Jesus. That said, I think you can see in the context of Jesus’ preaching why this makes sense. You had the Pharisees who were very concerned about these ideas of works and just rewards for works as they saw fitting. You had the Jews altogether who also had to learn what it meant for Gentiles to be saved in the grace of Christ. Or if you look at the immediate context you see this as a criticism—a gentle criticism, but a criticism nonetheless—of Peter who is talking right before this about he and the disciples having a great reward for leaving everything and following Jesus. Of course, in view of that, a bit of the point has to be understood as saying that we need to not worry about what our exact reward will be and how it might compare to others. That’s something, again, I don’t think I see from you all.
So, then, what do we wrestle with that applies to this? Well, you see this parable is finally about God’s generosity. And the reality is that we don’t like to address that. Now to be fair, this goes back to our sinful nature. We were talking this week in Bible Class about that and our culture. I made the point that I do occasionally that God has made us, has created us to hear a voice of affirmation. In particular, He has made us to hear His voice. Most particularly, He has made us to hear His voice justifying us, declaring us beloved, declaring us right, just, and good. But because of our sin, that’s all messed up.
What I mean is that now because of our sin, we still seek that voice of justification, but we don’t seek it from Him. No, now instead we seek to justify ourselves. However, because God has made us to hear that voice from outside of us, we seek to have the approval of others around us. In other words, we like to make sure that we present ourselves just so so that we will get others to affirm us. If you don’t believe me look at Social Media. It’s a whole phenomenon that is centered around putting things out there for people to see, and often doing so in hopes that they’ll like it, or love it, or respond with comments telling us how smart we are and how we are so right. And beyond that, look at the direction our culture is taking. We have a whole attitude that is becoming so divided because both sides are seeking the back patting of the others in their tribe so as to prove how right and just they are. Or if you look at the cancel culture I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the justification comes in tearing down those who don’t meet an ever increasing standard. This leads to the contest for who can become the standard bearer and prove themselves the most righteous. Why is all of this? Because we like to think we earn righteousness and it’s earned by how much those around us give us approval. And in the midst of this, look at what’s been lost: grace, mercy, forgiveness. There is now no grace, mercy, or forgiveness for those who don’t toe the line. In that mindset we don’t hear the grace of God and receive His graciousness, do we?
Now as I describe that, I’m describing a sort of cultural problem. One that I think results from the removal of God from the picture. How do we approach this from our perspective where we keep God in the picture?
I think we struggle with this in the ways we feel like God isn’t fair. And this is something that in my experience we do in a couple of ways. We do this when we see what we perceive as inequity in this life, and we question how God in His goodness could do such things. For example, we look at those who suffer greatly, and we think that is unjust of God to let them suffer. We see the poor and the starving and we say that’s not fair when so many have so much. Or sometimes we look at something that’s happened to us and we don’t understand why God chose us for such suffering, especially when you have those who aren’t faithful who don’t have such struggles. And that seems unfair. Those are the inequities I think we most often perceive in this life.
But then there are those with regard to the life to come. We know that there are those who have never heard the Gospel. The Bible makes it clear that those without faith in Christ are not saved. The one who does not acknowledge Jesus doesn’t acknowledge the Father, as John says in his first letter. Or as Paul says to the Romans, all men are without excuse. Neither of these qualify that condemnation as only existing for those who have heard and rejected the Gospel. And so, we hear that, and we say that’s not fair. It’s not fair that someone should not be saved never having heard the Gospel.
And as I mention that example, as I mention all of these examples, that’s exactly true. They aren’t fair as we understand fairness. It’s seems inequitable that some are saved and others aren’t, especially when they haven’t heard. It seems inequitable that some suffer more than others in this life. It seems inequitable that some feast for every meal and others die of starvation. So yes, it’s not fair.
So how do we deal with this? Well, on the one hand we deal with it in the reality of sin and the sin fallen world. Why do we suffer at all? Because we have sinned and rebelled against God. Why is there condemnation for any person at all? Because they have sinned and deserved temporal and eternal punishment. And as we look at that fact, we see something about fairness. What would be fair for us? It would be fair for us all to be cast into the eternal darkness with no hope for relief. So, of course, on the one hand it’s not fair that some get less of suffering and others get more.
But why does anyone get any relief at all? Because God is merciful and generous. You see what we deserve is black and white. The Law is black and white. The Commands tell us what do and how we haven’t done it, and so deserve horrible things. But then you have God’s mercy, you have His grace. That’s what makes things gray. So, how do we deal with that?
Those of you who watch my devotions heard the point that I made in those. It was from a commentator that I read. He said we don’t look at those around us, but at the landowner. By that I don’t mean that we don’t look to other people to care for them. I don’t mean that it isn’t incumbent upon us to seek to do our part to fix injustice. There is no disputing that God commands you to help your neighbor. But think about when we have issues with the injustice that we see around us how looking to our Lord fixes the issues we have. Think about how we’re like those who “begrudge” God His generosity, as it says in the reading. Which I pointed this out last year too, but that literally says there, “or are your eyes evil because I am good?” Think about how our sinful eyes are evil and God’s are good.
So, when we recognize that, we look to Him. And what do we see there? Look at the cross. Look at the Lord who shed His blood, who gave His life for you. Look at the Lord who shed His blood, giving His life for the sins of the whole world. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but the sins of the whole world; the sins of everyone. Look at that love. Look at what’s not fair.
I think I mentioned this in my devotion on this too, but I was talking to my kids about this, and it struck me. Look at this parable. The early workers feel that it’s unfair to them that those who worked less got paid the same. But who was it actually unfair for? Who actually got shorted? Did the workers who worked all day get shorted? No. They got a fair wage for their work. They agreed that wage was fair for their work when they started. Did the later workers get shorted? Maybe just the satisfaction of doing the work and being accountable for that. But who really got shorted here? It was the landowner. He paid all this extra money for this work that didn’t get done.
It’s true of our Lord Jesus. What did He have in heaven? He had everything: comfort; power; honor; might; glory; all of it. What did He deserve? All of that and more. He deserved all good things. And yet what did He get? He got the wrath for our sin, the condemnation we deserve. That was poured out on Him, and you could say it wasn’t fair for Him. That cross for you, so that He could have you with Him eternally. Was that fair? No. But that’s the depth of His love. And as you see Him as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, you see that’s the depth of His love not just for you, but for absolutely every soul who has ever lived. And He is so grand He is capable of that perfectly for all of them.
So that question of why some and not others? We can’t answer it. We can only care for those around us like He tells us to, like He has loved us. But we can say that when we see those arms outstretched on the cross, they are outstretched in that love. They are outstretched in His perfect goodness, in His perfect love, in the love that wasn’t fair to Him.
When you have those issues with fairness, then Christians, look there. Do you feel shorted by God? Look there. Do you feel it’s not fair that some have some things and others don’t? Look there. Do you feel it’s unfair how God works salvation? Look at that cross. Look at Him and not others, that you would see His goodness, His love, and His perfection.
And yes, the benefit of that is given to those who were called in baptism as infants, those who were called in the third, sixth, and ninth hours of their lives. The benefit is given to those who were called even at the eleventh hour of their life. But that love applies to the whole world. Every single man, woman, boy, girl, child ever. Why some and not others? Why the perceived unfairness here? We can’t say apart from knowing it’s our fault as sinners. But we can say that when we see the generosity of our Lord it is good and He is good; good in His perfect love and generosity for all. Amen.