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January 31, 2021
St. Matthew 20:1-16
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord of the vineyard seeks workers. He finds them and brings them to the vineyard. He pays them not according to their work, but from His generosity. In the end, it is revealed that He does not pay wages to workers, but gives gifts to His sons who stay in His vineyard. This is the definition of grace. It is undeserved.
There are two possible responses to this. These gifts can be received by faith, in joy and gratitude, or they can be despised as wages earned. If you insist on what is your due, you are given it and sent out of the vineyard. If you accept the Father’s goodness then all that He has is yours.
The most definitive passage on grace is probably St. Paul’s words in Ephesians 2: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
This phrase “not of your own doing” is essential. The workers got gifts they didn’t earn. By “not of your own doing” Paul exposes and refutes two errors. The first is to think that faith originates within ourselves. Faith is belief in God’s goodness. It is an expectation of grace and gifts. It trusts God’s love for us. Faith is itself a gift of God through His grace. It does not come from within us, is not, strictly speaking an act of the intellect, will, or reason. Faith is given from outside of us. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is bestowed in Baptism. Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. St. John the Baptist saw the Holy Spirit descend upon the Lord in the Jordan. The Holy Spirit also descends upon those who are baptized into Christ. From his perch in heaven, St. John probably sees it. In any case, Baptism gives the Holy Spirit and therein gives faith. The Spirit, and not we ourselves, is the source of faith. The vineyard owners were idle before the Lord found then. No one hired them. The Lord of the vineyard sought and found them of His own accord even though they were unworthy. Faith receives grace and grace saves – not of our own doing, but from outside of us.
The second error which Paul rejects is that grace is given as a reward for works. This is the problem of the wicked vineyard workers. They worked all day. They figured that was worth something, that God owed them. But God saves by faith, not by works. There is no room for human boasting.
Even if you have worked and borne the heat of the day, so what? You only did your duty. Even then all glory must be given to God. If not, it is not grace, for grace is not of our own doing.
This parable also addresses the problem of evil and the terrible question of why some are saved and others are not. The answer is grace. Both questions, why some are saved and why others are not, are answered in the owner’s response to the ungrateful workers: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to Me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” He doesn’t owe anyone anything. That, of course, doesn’t necessarily stop our fallen flesh from begrudging and second-guessing Him. We are all sadly well-practiced at envy. So we should repent. We should kneel before the mystery of God’s generosity. It is not our place to judge God.
Generosity and the freedom of the Giver is also part of grace. For even as grace must be undeserved, it must also be given as a gift. There is no requirement for grace to satisfy the human sense of fairness or the philosophical demands of our intellect. The simple reality is that grace isn’t a gift if you have the right to demand it or you earned it. Again that is the problem with the wicked vineyard workers. They don’t think it is a gift and therefore they aren’t grateful.
There is also a sense that if you can’t reject something, if you have to accept it and can’t walk away, it isn’t a gift either, rather it is an obligation. Obligations are not grace, Obligations don’t save. In fact, the Lord lets the wicked vineyard workers leave without His grace. He doesn’t force them into it. They leave with what is theirs, their wages, and they go to their own place.
We do not want to be like them. We want to be those who line up politely and wait our turn, who trust that what we’ve been told in the marketplace is true. We will be given not just whatever is right, but whatever is righteous. We make no demands. We simply expect the owner to be good to us.
Justice would require us to pay for our own sins, but the generosity of the Father has sent the Son as our Substitute. He has borne the burden and the heat of the day for us, in our place. We get credit for what He has done. He has been tortured on Hell’s cross. He was not let out until He paid every last penny. In this way, by the holy cross and empty tomb, the Lord has delivered us according to His merciful goodness. He hands over not just the wages, but the vineyard itself as a gift, undeserved, free, not of our own doing, from His generosity. He does ask how long or how hard you worked or how purely you believed. He doesn’t care how long you’ve been here. He looks instead upon the Sacrifice offered by the Son in Himself for us. His Kingdom isn’t a quarry or a sweat shop or an office full of cubicles either: It is a vineyard. He gives His produce, wine to make glad the hearts of men, Blood to wash them clean of sins, to the workers as though they owned the vineyard. For He isn’t in the business of making workers. He is the business of making sons and daughters.
Let us drink this wine as a gift from God. Let it confound our reason as it feeds our faith. Let it comfort our thirsty souls. Let us drink that which delivers to us the Lifeblood of God and strengthens us for our own exoduses out of this world.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
(recycled from January 24, 2016 A+D)