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St. Matthew 20:1-16
February 5, 2023 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This parable teaches the doctrine of grace, issues a warning against envy and self-righteousness, and hints at the Church as a family. We are the people who worked part of the day. We see the thief who was crucified with the Lord waltz into the Kingdom at the 11th hour for free. He never worked. He did not help. He receives the same forgiveness and welcome that we do. He was not our friend in the world. He might have been our enemy, but now he is our brother. We are to rejoice in this because this is grace. We do not want to be sent on our way but want to stay in the vineyard.
There are at least two temptations for us in the 11th hour Christians. The first is that we could think that there is no reason to work ever. We could despise the company of our family for friends in the world. We could become hedonists and lose the faith. An oft repeated quote whose source I do not know says something like: “In all of Holy Scripture there is but one case of deathbed repentance, that of the penitent thief, that no man should despair, but only one, that no man should presume.”
This is an easy error for those less connected to the Church. It is easy to think that fornication or sleeping in on Sunday morning or getting drunk will have no real consequences. We will just show up a few times a year and get right with God. It is absolutely possible to do that, of course, but it is also possible to wait too long. Those who plan to repent at the 11th hour often fall dead at 10:30. Cinderella intended to return home by midnight but lost track of time. Addiction numbs the soul slowly.
Repent. Do not fall for the devil’s false promises. There is no best of both worlds because there is no best in vice and pleasures of the flesh. The good life is a life lived in forgiveness in peace with God and men. Work in the Kingdom, next to your brothers, with your Father, is not toil. It is life itself.
The second is to resent the 11th hour Christians or any who you think didn’t work as hard or as long as you. It is obviously the error of the Pharisees. It is an easy trap for the professionals, those who work for the Church, or for those who volunteer a lot of hours or never miss a service. We might become envious of the thief like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son or even worse we might think that the Gospel ought to be more discerning, ought to ask something of those it loves, that there should be a reward for our work, and that the saints of God should be more like us. This is the chief warning: do not let your eye be evil because God is good.
The 11th hour Christians teach us about grace. They show us the heart of the Father. This is what the Gospel is and does: it forgives sinners, even the worst of sinners. Jesus paid for all sinners, even for those who don’t benefit from His sacrifice. He died for the most wicked and vile of men. If they would only believe, apart from any works at all, they would be saved, no matter what they have done or how they lived. It is there for them. It is free. Everyone who believes and is baptized, who calls on the Name of the Lord is saved – no matter how tiny the faith or how short its duration. The thief on the cross comes in by grace. So do we all or not at all. For what He gives, cannot be earned or bought. It has never been deserved – not even by the greatest heroes and saints of the faith. It is certainly not earned or deserved by us. We are blessed to be here, to hear the Word, to know God’s love. It is always and only a gift, a mercy, a blessing from God upon beggars.
That brings us to the last point. We want to remain here, in the Kingdom, in faith. We do not want to be sent on our way. There is nothing in the world for us. Christ is all. All things else fade or are destroyed. He and His Word are eternal. His sacrifice is complete and has been accepted by the Father. He is raised for our justification. His grace does not fail or disappoint.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.