Septuagesima Sunday
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
February 12, 2017
Central Passage
Matthew 20:1-16

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The beauty of the Law is that it’s fair. The hindrance of the Gospel is that it is unfair. 

The Law says an eye for an eye. That’s fair. The Law says that to whomever does good, good will be given. That’s fair. We like the Law. It’s fair. Which is why we always gravitate toward the Law. We always gravitate towards what’s fair, what seems right in our eyes. 

But it's only beautiful because we make ourselves the center of the Law. It’s not just what’s fair, it’s what’s fair in our eyes. Those rebels in Israel you’ve just heard about didn’t think it was fair that Moses got to make the rules. Who was he, anyway? They, too, were Israelites, Hebrews from the line of Abraham. It’s not fair that God only spoke to Moses. So they grumbled and complained. Some got swallowed up by the earth, others got a poisonous snake bite. And none of those grumblers who thought life was fair made it to the Promised Land. They all wandered the wilderness for forty years eating the same food and bearing the burdens of the Law given through Moses, but they all died in the wilderness. It was those who came at the last who entered the Promise Land. 

But we’re not like those rebels. At least we don’t think we are. Hardly anyone thinks they’re in the wrong. Just look at our country. Riots, lootings, ridiculously stupid arguments about fairness and justice in which there is no fairness or justice. But those doing these things think it’s fair. We do too when we rebel. We think it’s fair to rebel. Otherwise, why would we rebel. After all, we’re not bad people. We’re not trying to pick a fight. We just want what’s fair. 

Teenagers don’t generally set out to be rebels, they just don’t think it’s fair that mom and dad get to make the rules. They want to make their own rules. So they rebel. But to them it’s fair. When we rebel we think it’s fair. That’s why so many Christians don’t see a problem with leaving church when they think the pastor or some other member isn’t being unfair. We don’t think we’re like those rebels in the wilderness or those vineyard workers hired first. But we are. As soon as we lay possessive hold of a thing, that it’s ours, even if that thing is ourselves, then we have rebelled and the Law damns us. 

But we always view the Law from our point of view, from our perspective. And our perspective always has us sitting on the throne of judgment. Oh, not God’s throne, we think. We wouldn’t presume to sit on His throne. Funny, though, that God always seems to be on your side, doesn’t He? 

The god in our mind always argues like we argue; always hates what we hate; always loves what we love. The god in our mind always condemns who we condemn and always takes our side. We don’t mind if he forgives our enemies, but we think he understands why we can’t. We don’t mind that He saves those we don’t think deserve it, but we picture him as understanding why we won’t go to church with them or why we won’t open our hearts to them. After all, the way they are, that wouldn’t be fair to us. Who are they anyway? 

That’s why those vineyard workers who’d born the heat of the day got angry and complained to the Master. It wasn’t fair. At least, it wasn’t fair from their perspective. They worked more, they should get more. This is how we live our lives. Repent. 

Repent because such thinking is not godly. It’s not even properly the Law. We think the Law is fair, but it’s not. It’s not fair at all because the Law puts our neighbor above us. It makes the poor the receiver of our wealth. It makes the diseased the receiver of our affections. It makes the ne’er-do-well the receiver of our good will. The Law isn’t fair at all. At least, it’s not fair from our perspective, which is to always put yourself first. We even say this to those going through a tough time. We don’t say to our struggling friend, “Listen, I know you’re struggling, and that’s hard, but it’s because of sin and self-love.” No, we say, “I’m sorry you’re struggling; and you’re right, you know, it’s not fair. You should be treated better. Gotta take care of yourself first.” Repent. 

There’s the weight of the real Law. We think it’s beautiful so we reach out to touch it only to find that its barbs are full of deadly poison. It crushes the self-server, the self-centered. It lays waste to the self-worshiper who thinks life isn’t fair and seeks to make it fair for himself. 

But the Law is good. It is able to make one wise. The Law is good because it is given by God who is good. He is wise and so He alone can give wisdom. And more than that, He is gracious. And only by His grace can we see the Law rightly; that it is the will of God from God’s perspective, not ours. 

Those first laborers got hired by contract: a day’s wage. The rest of the laborers got no such contract. The Master only told them, “Work in my vineyard and I will do right by you.” All they had is a promise, the promise of the Master. On His promise they went in an worked. Some as the third hour, some at the sixth hour, some at the ninth hour, and some at the eleventh hour. When the day was over those hired last, who did the least, got paid. They got a day’s wage. So did those hired at the ninth, sixth, and third hours. Surely, then, those hired first, who worked the longest, would get more. 

No. They got what they were contracted to get. But then they got the boot. Take what is yours and go. The ones who held on to what they thought was theirs didn’t get hang around with the Master. They claimed possession of their money so the Master let them have their money. And they had to go away from Him. Those grumblers and complainers who grumbled and complained against Moses didn’t get to hang around in the Promised Land. They took what they thought was theirs by right and they went away. 

Better to lose your life that you might gain it than to gain your life and lose it. 

The Lord’s perspective is not ours until He reveals it to us. And He has revealed it to us, would that we pay attention. His perspective is toward His neighbor, toward us. And He works for and toward us and our salvation. He preaches the Word when we need it preached to us. He gives us the testing we need that we would cling to His mercy. He gives us the friends we need so that our burdens would not be so heavy. He gives us the poor that we would be merciful. He gives us the ne’er-do-well so we would be forgiving as He forgives us. He gives us the Church so that we would find salvation. 

He hung on the cross at the third hour, at the sixth hour, at the ninth hour, and at the eleventh hour so that we would receive His wage, which is eternal life. 

Don’t begrudge the generosity of our Lord lest He say to you, “Take what is yours and go.” Rather rejoice in the grace of God for others as well as for yourself. Receive others as you have been received. Show mercy as mercy has been shown to you. And do not consider that anything belongs to you, not even your own body, for you are not contracted laborers but the Master has simply said, “I will do right by you.” 

+ In Nomine Iesu +