Septuagesima 2015

1 February 2015
Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Moses was told to provide water for the grumbling people of God twice. The first time, as read this morning, He was told to strike the rock. He did and water flowed and the people drank. The rock followed them. Later they needed water again and were grumbling and God told Moses to speak to the rock but Moses struck the rock twice in anger. Water flowed again and the people drank but Moses was punished. He was prohibited from entering into the Promised land and died in the wilderness with the generation that had lived in Egypt.

If it were not clear enough in Exodus and Numbers, St. Paul makes it explicit in 1 Corinthians. The rock that gave water was Christ. He is the One who provides water in the wilderness even as He is the One who provided bread and quail, who parted the waters of the Red Sea and rescued His people from slavery in Egypt.  Thus says the Lord “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” and “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The sin of Moses in Numbers 20 when he strikes the rock is that he was that he was angry that God was merciful. The Lord said to him: “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

Moses did not believe in Him. He believed that He had power to provide water. He believed the Lord was real, that He was God, but in his arrogance He thought God a fool because of His mercy. This was the sin of Jonah in the Ninevah, the essential sin of the Pharisees, and of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

It was also the sin of the laborers who worked all day in the parable of the vineyard workers. The ESV we heard read really lets us down here. What is translated as “Do you begrudge my generosity” is an interpretation of the idiom that is literally translated as “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

The idiom does mean that the workers who had worked all day were begrudging the owner’s generosity, but it also meant more than that. It meant that their begrudging of his generosity had rendered them unable to see anything clearly. Their eyes were evil. They have become covetous, envious, sad because of another’s happiness, so that they could not see any good. The overpaying of those who did no work did not take anything away from those who had worked but they could not be happy. They could only be angry and sad.

Repent. This is not an alien scene of obscure ways to sin. This is an emotion – sadness at others’ fortune – that you well know, along with its mirror image, Schadenfreude, joy at others’ misfortune. God wants to be merciful and generous. He loves the people who grumble and complain against Him in the desert. He loves the people who don’t deserve it, who are too lazy to work and show up late. And in our fallen flesh we think that is wrong. We like some generosity, some mercy, but not too much, and, mainly, only for our own kind.

This is the essence of Christianity: God forgives sinners and punishes His Son in their stead. It is not fair. It is not just. God makes sinners the equal of His Son. The rock was struck the first time because the Messiah is stricken, smitten, and afflicted on our behalf and to let the water of Holy Baptism, that which we drink and never thirst again, out of His blessed side. The second time it was not to be struck because the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ was once and for all. Moses, in his proud sin of wanting the people to pay for their own sins, struck the rock again because he was denying the fullness and the generosity of the Lord’s mercy for His people and thus sought to re-crucify the Lord.

At the meat market we all take a number. It is first come, first served, and you pay for what you get. The Kingdom of heaven is not like the kingdoms of men. You don’t pay. The goods are given for free. It would drive a meat market out of business, but the Lord doesn’t care. He isn’t out to make a living. He is out to give away His Kingdom. So the Lord lines them up in reverse order: the last are first. Grace reigns. Sins are forgiven. Pagan rebels become sons.

Therefore I will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto Thy Name.


In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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