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drawn from a sermon by Doctor Martin Luther

Matthew 20:1-16

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Feb 9, 2020 

Obviously, the standard used by the householder in the parable would not be acceptable in ordinary labor relations.  It just would not be fair.  In the marketplace, there is a different measure and rule.  He who labors hard and long gets higher wages.  He who works less gets comparatively less pay.  Yet even here, if a worker does receive his agreed upon wage, he really has no reason to grumble if his employer - out of the goodness of his heart - wants to reward some other worker with a little extra.  In principle, however, it is not right to pay equal wages for disproportionate labor.

The Lord told the parable in this fashion so as to distinguish clearly between His Kingdom and the worldly realm, and thus to remind us that His Kingdom operates with principles different from the standards of the world.  On the worldly scene there can be no absolute equality simply because people themselves are so diverse.  That is why, as a general rule, he who has labored more also receives more pay.  In Christ’s Kingdom, however, there should be no such difference.  All are to be equal, one the same as the other; each to have and be worth as much as the next one.

Outwardly, then, there is a difference.  Inequality will and must remain in the public domain simply because of the diversity of professions and occupation.  A poor farmer’s lifestyle is different from that of a big businessman.  Here there is a lot of inequality - and it needs to stay that way because of the way God has arranged different vocations in this world.  In Christ's Kingdom, however, all are equal!  None has a different baptism, gospel, faith, sacrament, or a different Christ and God.  Together they all go to church.  A janitor hears the same word as the President.  The baptism I have is the same one that anyone receives.  The faith Peter and Paul had is the same faith the thief on the cross had.  As Christians you and I also have it.  John the Baptist's God and Christ is the same one every repentant sinner has!  Here, then, all are the same, even though one is higher or lower as far as worldly status, office, or talents are concerned.

All this we need to diligently learn, so that we can rightly distinguish Christ’s Kingdom from all worldly realms.  This is surely a very comforting gospel for us Christians, that all of us are so wonderfully equal in Christ!  As far as the world is concerned, differences remain.  That is the will of God.  He has created and arranged all this diversity.  But we will continue to take comfort in the fact – whether our station is high or low - that we all have one Christ, one baptism, one gospel, one Spirit.  No one has a better gospel, a better baptism, a different or better Christ, or a different or better heaven - we are all equal!

Again, all this we should carefully note so that everyone may serve God sincerely and cheerfully, whatever his station in life, always thinking, “I am not powerful or rich.  But I do, nevertheless, have the same holy baptism.  He who died to earn eternal life for me is the same Christ who saved the richest man on earth.  All of these good things we have in Christ ought to make us justly proud, so that we may have the proper perspective toward worldly goods, riches, and glory.  We ought to take courage and comfort alone from the fact that we are baptized in Jesus’ name, who died for us and ascended to heaven, where He sits at God's right hand, ready to help us out of sin, death, and every misfortune.

Whoever, then, has this conviction that we are all equal in Christ can go about his daily work with joy.  Whether he occupies a lesser place or position than someone else will not trouble him during his brief sojourn here on earth.  He will understand that in his daily life there must be inequality - one having much, another little.  A Christian will not let this disturb him.  Instead he will go ahead in the name of God, knowing that here on earth it cannot be otherwise.  Even if I have a more arduous station in life, even if I am not as powerful as others, I am not going to grumble about it, but instead will gladly and willingly remain in my place until God promotes me.  Meanwhile, I have the comfort of knowing that no one has a different Christ, or more of him, than I.  In truth, the pope does not have what I have!  I am cleansed only by the blood of the Christ who sits at God's right hand - something the pope disavows.

Knowing that in Christ’s Kingdom there is no inequality, we have courage and comfort, and we go forward to do what needs to be done.  In this way everyone can go about his daily work in a joyful and godly manner.  A Christian can truly say, “I have no real reason to grumble about my station in life.  It is a good and precious one, even though it seem unimportant and even boring.  It may not be a princely position but it is a Christian one.  What more could I have or desire?

That, however, was not the attitude of the first workers, who grumbled and were envious because they were not getting more than the others.  People who think much of themselves are no different.  They want our Lord to reward them according to their works since He sees how much more they have done than others.  Because of the overtime they have put in, they expect a higher place in heaven and a bigger and better Christ.  Those first ones in the parable thought they should have more than the others.  Piously they reported to our Lord how long they labored and how much they endured.  But what did He tell them?  Whether you are a better man or work harder than someone else is not the point.  No one has a better gospel, baptism, or a better Christ than the next man.

When so-called “spiritual” people exalt themselves over others, saying that they have a superior gospel and they observe more than ordinary Christians do, this is simply not true.  In fact, it is entirely contrary to the gospel!  They insist that the gospel implies a diversity even though, as He has pointedly taught in this gospel, Christ has made all equal in His Kingdom.  Every individual counts as much as any other.  None should then boast before the Lord God, claiming to be better than others and deserving of special reward.  That is wrong and evil!  In Christ's Kingdom all are equal.  God deals with all of us not on the basis of merit but solely and alone according to grace and mercy - for the sake of His Son Christ Jesus.

In Christ we are not different but equal!  This is obnoxious to the world.  The Jews particularly became mad and furious when they heard that we gentiles are to be saved.  We do not keep the Sabbath and other burdens of the law, the weight of which the Jews bore with grievous toil and sweat.  Our Lord refers to that in the parable when he says that the first hired expected to receive more and grumbled about it when each got his pay.  They lived under the almost beyond telling burden of the law!  Gentiles do not.  Now are they, who have done so much good under the law, to be equal with us?  By no means.  If God deals thus with gentiles, then he owes us Jews much more!

But Christ will not countenance any such difference. “Friend,” He says, “I am doing you no wrong.  Take what belongs to you, and go.” Or to put it another way: “You already have your reward, but I am now establishing a new and different Kingdom, in which all are equal.  After all, the property is Mine.  I have the right to do My business as I think best.  You have no right to lecture Me on how to deal with My servants.”

Sadly, the Jews, in their spitefulness, are apt to lose eternal life, refusing to be on the same level with us gentiles and accusing our Lord of unfair dealing when He says to them, “Take your agreed upon wage and leave.  It is My vineyard, not yours!  What business is it of yours how I run My affairs?”

The pope and the like do the same when they refuse to be considered equal with us in Christ’s Kingdom.  Insisting on special treatment, they risk eternal life.

That is why it is so important that we truly understand that in His Kingdom we are all to be equal, since we all have one and the same God, Christ, Holy Spirit, gospel, holy sacrament, and faith.

Because we are thus privileged, we should thank God for such gifts and praise Him by saying, “Let men regard me as they wish, and consider me as inferior as they want.  I, nevertheless, have as much as all men, yes, as much as all the Saints and Angels in heaven!  How?  Through Christ!  So I will go my way, doing everything my station in life requires with joy, courage, enthusiasm, and love - all because I have such a great treasure in Christ my Lord.

This is the teaching of today's gospel: that Christ operates under this principle in His Kingdom: “I will give as much to one as to the other.  The reason?  No one has ever succeeded in earning the Kingdom of heaven - salvation from death and sin - and because of that I am not under obligation to anyone.  Always the Kingdom comes by grace to whomever I will.” Let us, therefore, beware of murmuring about His ways.  Instead, thanking God always for His undeserved mercy from which we can draw comfort no matter what dangers, troubles, and labors we must bear.  This will ease and lighten our loads.  May our dear Lord Jesus Christ provide that for us all, Amen.

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