TO THOSE persons seeking discussion for Sundays coming forth in the lectionary, we offer a listing according to the three-year calendar.
On the right-hand column of this page, please find the past corresponding year for lectionary years A, B, or C.
And then search the appropriate month in each for a discussion concerning the gospel reading.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Economy and Grace...

FOR THE Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, we hear of the rightful tension that exists between the Law of Moses as provided to Israel, and the grace that is given to us through Christ Jesus our Lord. This we have from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew through the Parable of the Vineyard. In the telling, Jesus explained to his listeners that the grace of God often moves counter to what we humans think of as fair measure…

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.
 Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.
 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
  And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.
  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
  But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

Man’s Economy
This parable told by Jesus brings closing thoughts to a topic presented in Matthew’s previous chapter. There the initial question asked of our Lord was.., “What good deed do I do to inherit eternal life?” In that prior scene, the Son of God had ultimately answered the rich young man’s query. Jesus said to him..,

 “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)

This question focused many persons within the early church of Matthew upon rewards. The rewards for fair acts humanly done by a person during their lifetime… those good things which are to be accomplished for all persons... would come in judgment before God.
 However, the initial response Jesus gave addressed worldly position. The disciples inquired about their own reward. Thus they boldly reminded he who needs no reminding that they had left everything to follow him. Jesus answered them concisely, by teaching them that all things would unfold properly in the kingdom of God. . .

           “But many that are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30)

 The query from the disciples gleaned a clear answer from our Lord. Rewards would be given. For this reward, Jesus required faith from his followers. The issue prompted the illustration presented by today’s parable.
 Whether the parable’s inclusion here in Matthew’s gospel, a text not found in either Mark or Luke, is recorded because of ambition expressed on the part of the entire original twelve, or simply noted a particular disturbance that had run solely through Matthew’s church in Antioch… is difficult for us to know. However, we may ask.., “Was it that both Mark and Luke wanted to avoid painting their early church communities as internally contentious? Were persons within their congregations also seeking after power, position or wealth?
 Because it is discussed here, we know personal wealth was an issue already in the infant Matthean church by the time of the gospel writing. This emerged as a pronounced hierarchy tumult which likely ran as an undercurrent that arose between Jewish elders, Judaic proselytes, and Gentile Christians. That a difference as to a successor of Saint Peter had occurred is historically evident, between Saint Evodius and Saint Ignatius (c.60 A.D.)
 I offer to you that the writers of Mark (c. 70 A.D.) likely did not include this parable because the story belongs to a source not known at the time by that Christian church. Many authorities believe that gospel was written at least fifteen years earlier than Matthew and Luke’s telling. On the other hand, Luke’s gospel was written during the same decade as Matthew. However, argument can be made that there the writer's of the Lukan witness chose to ignore this tumult, because the topic addressed something that was not an issue for their communities. They possibly did not include it because its portrayal would consume too much parchment manuscript length.
 In any case, we today may rightly look to Matthew because the parable addressed human economic sinfulness... a folly that may be found in every historical age. Note that the parable states that whether rich or poor, small or large, urban, suburban or rural… we of the Church in these latter days too often ask our Lord, “What are we to do to inherit the good stuff? What shall our payment and position in the kingdom be? Who shall sit at the head of the table? The parable challenges our attitude that human works are often seen as our earning a good seat in heaven. Therefore Jesus long ago challenged our worldly concept of fairness, as reflected over against God’s wondrous grace.
  What is very striking about this parable is how it portrays an ethic that differs from our customary human economy. Today, we have an understanding that a person should be paid according to work output and also be paid on time. We have in the Hebrew writings and traditions prescribed law that demands an accounting, whatever the sums, that must be immediately settled fairly between employers and day laborers. As example, we read…

 “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be sin in you. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

 Therefore, in the parable our Lord Jesus agreed with an earlier tradition for person-to-person commerce. He called for wages to be fairly settled at the end of the day. This was in agreement with the Law of Moses. As Christians then, if we consider ourselves as workers in the kingdom of God, and the end of our lives may be thought of as the end of the day... the idea of how much is “earned” for the “end time” becomes an eternal issue.
  Consequently, in light of this last thought, since the workers described in the parable were brought into labor at various hours of the day, those persons hired first factored for themselves wages on a tilted scale. Thus we see that a stark division occurred when the vineyard owner chose a different course.

43272: Jesus Among Other Gods Jesus Among Other Gods
By Ravi Zacharias / Thomas Nelson

No such thing as absolute truth? Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias' work is a brilliant defense of the unique truth of the Christian message. Exposing the futility of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, he also highlights his own journey from despair and meaninglessness to the discovery that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
God's Grace!
 Since Matthew singularly chose to include this parable may be evidence that similar conversations were pronounced in his congregation. In the parable we hear that many workers thought the vineyard owner should vary the wages according to the measure held by the workers. Those who had worked earlier, and longer… should be paid more. And since some of the apostles were called first... well.., you get the point. Thus we see that an inherited “works seniority” measure became an issue. When payment was made as the parable unfolds, however, we see that the owner of the vineyard wronged no one. He simply chose to extend greater generosity to those who had been hired later in the day.
  Now, we in today’s society should not apply our economic rules in taking this text as either an endorsement or rejection of such things as capitalism, socialism, trade guilds or modern union bargaining. Rather than imposing our own human concepts upon scripture, consider that according to Jesus and the witness of Matthew, the intent of this parable was to portray abundant grace as the generous sovereignty of the Father.
 We may consider that our Lord's response to this adverse human reaction should be judged according to what is best described by a variant Greek translation. You see, a variation exists for a latter verse added in our reading. We find the divine challenge laid out in the vineyard owners words…

 ”Or are you envious because I am generous?” … which is also interpreted properly by some Greek language scholars as… “Is your eye evil because I am good?

  In this variant, we get the full import the message that God is God! The parable asks the hearers to examine themselves about their own motivations. When payment does not meet our expectations…. when our lives do not work out as expected… do we consider ourselves to be judges of what is fair? Is it that we sinful human beings shall judge not only ourselves and our economies, but our God as well? Or shall we more rightfully praise our graceful God?
 Subsequently, within our modern environment we hear from Matthew an important message concerning our salvation. I argue that we are called to see that our God has worked in response to the fallen state of humanity. Almighty God, who is the Father of Jesus Christ, is not respectful of human measures concerning gained position, inheritance, nor seniority. Of this, we see that Saint Paul reminded the early church in Rome…

For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?
                                                                                              (Romans 3:22b-29)

Surely then, amid our jostling and grumbling using our family ancestry claims, class jealousies, worldly possessions and national or denominational allegiances… it is with humility that we are called by the Spirit to remember our true poverty. We are by the Holy Spirit prompted to confess our sinfulness, and mutually accept the very graceful gift of forgiveness and salvation that is given. As Christians, worldly rich and poor are both dealt with justly... but only for the sake of Christ Jesus.
  Let us remember! We are asked to corporately recognize that we are among those who were caught as last in our sinfulness and we should rightly sit in outer darkness. Yet we are now gracefully placed as chosen. For us and for our salvation our Lord Jesus accepted the hurtful and dreadful payment for our sin, and we are gracefully rewarded instead. He that is the firstborn of God, and was God at the beginning of all things, accepted that final punishment... knowing that he would be considered as the last.
 Indeed, Jesus we present as the Son of God, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end… the Righteous One that gave himself. He even yet gives generously through the Holy Spirit. It is this obedient Son whom God raised from the dead. Through him, Jesus the Christ, we who were deservedly to be placed far removed are forgiven and given admission to the heavenly vineyard.
 We are blessed that we find ourselves standing among those put foremost by God’s eternal love. This was, and yet still is the happy exchange… the divine economy… thanks be to God!
 Visit Pastor's previous video that addresses this topic...

May God Prosper Your Way!


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