By Mark Buetow
People often think that the parables that Jesus tells are simple little stories about familiar things that He tells to illustrate a point. Except that the people in Jesus’ parables are always crazy and don’t do things like the real world at all! For example, what farmer sows seed willy-nilly all over the place? The farmers I’ve heard of plant the seeds in rows but the farmer in Jesus’ parable just throws seed everywhere, like he’s wasting it!
And then there’s the story of the guy who owned the vineyard and rented it out and then sent his servants to collect his cut. But the tenants beat them up and even killed some. So what does the owner do? Send his son? What was he thinking!?
Or how about the Father who gives his son his inheritance—before he’s even dead! Usually a parent says, “No, you have to wait ’til I’m dead to get what’s coming to you.”
In Matthew 20:1-16, we have a parable of the kingdom of heaven that does the exact same thing: It isn’t at all like real life. Today, companies are laying off people! But here in Matthew 20 this guy who not only goes and hires people all day long but pays them all the same at the end of the day? That’s crazy! But crazy is what our Lord does! What He teaches us with the parable of the workers in the vineyard is, once again, that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. The Lord doesn’t think like we think and He doesn’t do things the way we do them. No, His way is what we call the Gospel!
GRACE, BUT NOT ON OUR TERMS
The parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches us that God’s grace isn’t given out the way we would do it. And thank the Lord for that! Forgiveness of sins and salvation are given to us not because we’ve earned it. Not because we deserved it. Not because we’re good people. Not because we’re bad people. Forgiveness and salvation are ours whether we’ve been in the church our whole lives or only just come into it. Forgiveness of sins and salvation are given to us without respect to our race or color or social status or income or good intentions. No, the parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches us that the forgiveness of sins and our salvation are given to us for one reason: the goodness of the vineyard owner. God’s goodness is this: that He sends His Son to take our place and take away our sins. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God’s goodness is that Jesus goes to the cross in your place. Whether you’ve been in the vineyard all your life or only an hour, your eternal salvation in Jesus Christ is a gift.
That’s how the Lord gives. Notice that the vineyard owner doesn’t say, “I’ll pay you what is fair.” He says, “I’ll pay you what is right,” or, literally, what is “righteous.” Remember what “righteous” means? It means, “Jesus takes your place.” So the gifts that the Lord gives are based on His generosity. Your salvation is a gift given based not on your work but upon Jesus’ work. It’s given based on what He has done. The forgiveness of sins is given to you because of Christ’s incarnation and birth, on account of His Baptism and temptation, because of His arrest and trial and mockery and suffering and condemnation and death. Your forgiveness comes because Christ has borne your sins, bled and died for them on the Cross and risen from the dead. Your forgiveness comes because of His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. In the parable, the guys who worked all day were angry that the master made the guys who only worked an hour “equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day!” That’s the Gospel! In the Church, by your Baptism into Christ, God the Father has made you equal to Jesus who has done the work of keeping the commandments and suffering for our sins. We, who have done nothing worthy of God loving us or forgiving us are, by His grace, given what is Christ’s: what He has earned and deserved by His life, death and resurrection.
HIS WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS
Nobody does things the way the Lord does. Nobody hires people at different times of the day and pays them all the same! Nobody goes out looking for people to work for him who just stand around all day! But we’re not talking about the world here. We’re talking about God’s kingdom. And in God’s kingdom, He doesn’t do things the way the world does. The way of the world is selfishness and self-promotion, grumbling and complaining when our own standard of “fair” is not met. But in God’s kingdom, He gives gifts generously. Undeserved. Unearned. For Christ’s sake. On account of and because of what Christ has done for us and in our place. What joy that the Lord does not give us what is “fair!” Rather, He gives us what is righteous, and that means He gives us Jesus and all that is His. No matter how long you’ve been in the Lord’s vineyard, all that Jesus has is yours. Thanks be to God the Father that He is such a vineyard owner in Christ!
Rev. Mark Buetow is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church and School in McHenry, IL.
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in February 2009.