We Don’t Really Get Our Lord’s Generosity

Septuagesima

January 28, 2018

Matthew 20:1–16

One of the criticisms of Christians is that they are hypocrites. No one likes to be called a hypocrite. We become defensive if someone accuses us of being hypocritical. You condemn others and yet you are not perfect. Point taken. But perhaps there’s something worse than this. Maybe we shouldn’t bring it up because then they will see how our hypocrisy is much worse than they thought.

Because we just don’t get it. We don’t really get our Lord’s generosity. We tend to think that it is those non-Christians who don’t get God. Why aren’t they able to see that God is full of grace and that He wants everyone to be saved? But no, they just go their own way, wanting nothing to do with God.

We are the ones who should really get it. That God is gracious, and merciful, and loving; that’s our bread and butter. That’s who our God is, that’s who we count on Him being. But then we become hypocrites when He is that way to those who don’t deserve it. And that’s just not right. Why should others get the same grace and favor of God that we do when clearly they haven’t put in nearly as much time into the Church as we have. Or they think that they’re just as worthy as we are even though we have been Christians for much longer and have served God far more. Or they just don’t act like it’s all that important, while we make sure people know how important God is to us.

Those who call us hypocrites are right. Because we look at others and we deem that God has judged incorrectly when He gives to them the same grace as He does to us. That His generosity overflows to those who seem to not be worthy of such generosity. You and I are hypocrites because we fail to take to heart a simple yet profound truth about ourselves. And while it’s true of everyone, for the moment you and I should not consider all those other people, but just ourselves. Just look into your own heart and not try to see what is in the heart of others.

This simple and profound thing about ourselves we prayed this morning in the Collect of the Day. Since we prayed it we should believe it and take it to heart. It’s almost so simple that it seems not that big of a deal. But it’s only the most telling thing about us. “O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name.”

The first thing to note is that we pray our Lord to graciously hear us. Grace is undeserved favor. God doesn’t love us because we’ve earned it. He doesn’t look upon us with favor because when it comes down to it we’re really good people. He loves us because He loves us. He loves us because He shines His favor upon us even though we don’t deserve it! This is so simple it’s easy to pass right on by it.

And that leads to the second thing. We pray that He would hear our prayers even though we justly suffer the consequence of our sin. If you and I overlook our sin then we are no better off than those who reject God. We justly deserve the consequence of our sin—suffering in hell forever. And this is where the hypocrisy comes in. If we think that others deserve punishment from God but we deserve favor, we are saying that we are the ones who make ourselves right with God. That goes against God’s salvation of us!

The third thing, then, is that we pray we may be mercifully delivered by His goodness to the glory of His name. There’s two words here that are the opposite of our worthiness. One is mercifully. In mercy God does not give us what we do deserve—eternal damnation. And goodness. This is the word that is used in the Gospel reading by the master of vineyard. In the version we heard this morning the word is translated “generosity.” That’s exactly it. The goodness of God isn’t just good. It’s generous. It’s overflowing. It’s abundant. Our only prayer can be that God deliver us from our sin by His abundant grace and generosity.

Would you and I really take issue with God that He would give the same to others? You know, the ones you see that aren’t up to snuff? If so, then you and I think overwhelmingly of ourselves and nothing of Christ. God did not save you by telling you what to do to get in His good favor but by giving you His Son.

This is illustrated in three ways, as we see in our three readings this morning. In the Old Testament reading what was it that the people of God in the desert saw? They saw desert. Here they were, traipsing through the desert, and in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s no water there. Let alone food. So they saw that and they grumbled. We’re Your people God, we don’t deserve this. This should be the lot of those pagans who don’t care about You at all. So they were going by sight instead of faith. Instead of trusting in their Lord who oh by the way had just triumphantly delivered them from their four hundred years of slavery to pagans and was bringing them into the Promised Land… Instead of trusting in Him they took issue with Him. They did not take to heart their sin and unworthiness and the generosity of God in giving them far more than they deserved.

The second way this is illustrated is in the apostle Paul in the Epistle reading explaining how an athlete operates. This is so often how we view God and religion. The harder I work the more successful I will become. In order to win I have to put in the time and preparation and practice. And if I win it is because I earned it. By contrast, says, Paul, being saved is purely by grace. And the example He uses is the same one as in the Old Testament reading of the people of God complaining against God.

The third way of illustrating this is in the Gospel reading. Admittedly, it’s a hard passage. It’s so unfair. The people who worked hard all day in brutal conditions got the same pay as the ones who had hung out in town all day and worked only one hour and when it had already cooled off. No wonder those first workers grumbled.

But what they failed to see is that they had not been wronged at all. The landowner had given them exactly what they had expected, a full-day’s wage. At the beginning of the day when they were hired, they were ecstatic. They were earning money! And a good wage. At the end of the day they resented the owner. Why? Because he made them equal to us. How dare he do what he wanted with what was his own. In their eyes he was now the bad guy.

But had they just continued in the way they had started they would have realized that their hard day’s work was not only rewarding but also earned them a good paycheck. But the owner helped them to see something even more. Something perhaps even greater. Those other workers, you know, the ones who weren’t as deserving, they were given a great blessing. Instead of standing around the entire day and getting nothing for it, they were able to finish off the day working and getting a paycheck. It should have been no concern to the first workers what amount the last workers got. But the first workers were too busy focusing on themselves. And we wonder why people accuse us Christians of being hypocritical.

We don’t really get the generosity of our Lord. If we did, we would be repenting every day of our sin in and awe that our Lord continues to forgive us. We would be coming here to the House of our Lord first and foremost because we need to be forgiven in the pure words of Christ and the sacred body and blood of Christ. We would recognize we deserve nothing. That there’s no time to consider what others do or don’t deserve. We ourselves are in need of one thing, and that is deliverance from the just consequence of our sin.

And receiving that, what a joy to know that He wants to give this to as many people as possible. He doesn’t go around determining who is worthy and who is not. He is not chintzy with what He gives. If He wants to give to the last as He has given to the first, isn’t that a good thing? Don’t we want what is good for others? Just as we ourselves have received generously from our Lord? Didn’t Christ die on the cross for everyone’s sins?

Let’s turn this parable upside-down. When you get to heaven and you as a life-long and faithful Christian are standing at the gate and you are asked to wait and those Christians who were converted late in life or on their death-bed or who just seemed to never quite get the whole living as a Christian thing are welcomed in first, do you really want to be the guy who grumbles against your Lord for welcoming them into eternal glory as if they had been part of the program all along? He will be rejoicing to welcome them in. He will rejoice that they despaired of their own worthiness and clung finally, ultimately, to His precious Son, the one who gave His life for their sins. And yours. And everyone’s. That is the generosity of our Lord and He invites us to rejoice in the utter unfairness and graciousness and generosity of it. Amen.

SDG