For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house.” I’m not sure why Jesus bothers with the Parable, because it’s not going to make sense to us anyways. We say we get it, that God gives His grace lavishly, but in the end it’s a concept that we will never wrap our minds around. We rejoice in God’s grace as it is represented in the landowner, but we still don’t get it. We can’t, because our minds are terminally infected by original sin, the prideful, arrogant sin of Satan, that tells us to see ourselves as the most important, the highest judge of all things. God, the rule of nature, everything must be subservient to me, to what I can comprehend, to what I can dictate. And God’s grace does not work in those ways. It is entirely ludicrous to human reason. It works in ways we cannot and never will. But, that’s why Jesus tells the Parable. Not so we can master the concept, but so we can rejoice that our God does not limit Himself to man’s ways, to those things that make sense to us. God’s grace is limitless and gives gifts greater than we could ever deserve.
When Jesus first told this Parable, He told it because Peter asks a question. To understand our Gospel from Matthew 20, you have to read Matthew 19. Context is key. Peter asks, “See, we have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?” This comes after Jesus saying that it is more difficult for the rich to inherit the kingdom than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Peter wants to know what the Twelve deserve for being Jesus’ most devoted followers. Certainly they will merit a reward greater than those who follow occasionally or than those who come later. So, to illustrate that His grace is not at all dependent upon works, upon duration of belief, or anything humanly measurable like that, Jesus tells the Parable about the odd landowner.
Of course, this isn’t a story about how to pay workers or how to be seen as a good boss. This Parable is about God’s constant search for sinners to bring them to salvation. Notice who it’s a search for: sinners. This isn’t a search for the best, for the righteous. It’s a search for sinners, people who deserve nothing. Every time Jesus tells a parable that involves someone going out in search of others, the seeker never looks for the righteous, they always look for the bad, the less than desirable. In this Parable, by the end of the day, the landowner is hiring people who have done nothing but stand around lazily all day. If they were good workers worthy of their wages, they wouldn’t have been standing around the marketplace all day. These are the inferior workers, but the landowner hires them anyways, and already knows how he will pay them. Of course, how he pays them seems unfair—a full day’s pay for one hour of work. It’s unfair.
But this is the glorious Gospel! Our God gives unfairly. If His giving was fair, you wouldn’t receive a single thing. But we’ve already seen that this morning with Arlee. She didn’t deserve the Baptism she received, the lavish washing away of sin. But God gave it anyways. He now counts as hers Christ’s perfect righteousness. When God looks at her, He does not see sin—either original or actual—but the perfect obedience, the perfect holiness of Jesus.
And it’s the same with you. You have sinned more often than you know. You have sinned accidentally and you have sinned intentionally. You have grieved God by your behavior, your deliberate ignoring of His clear Word. He should count that against you. He should give you hell and when you object He should tell you, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.”
But in His love and mercy and grace He has called you out of the marketplace of this sinful world and into the Body of Christ, the Church, without any merit or worthiness in you. Salvation does not depend on how long of a day you have worked. It depends solely upon the gracious inviting and gift of God in Christ’s sacrifice. God wants to be generous with the things that are His. He can do what He wants with what is His, and this is the Gospel for Peter, for the disciples, and for you. He wants to give those things to you, to invite you into His kingdom, to give you a place of honor, to elevate you from workers to sons.
This only becomes insulting when you take your eyes off the landowner, off Jesus. Those first hired workers were happy to work because they trusted that the landowner was good and just. It was only when they stopped looking at his nature and looked at themselves that their anger was kindled against him and against their fellow workers. When they looked inward they started to get jealous and grumbled. But there is no room for self-promotion, for competition, no basis for one to say to another “I’m better than you and deserve more.” When the focus is God’s goodness in the face of your unworthiness, it’s easy to rejoice in God’s grace. But when you take your eyes of Him and look at yourself, that’s when God looks unfair.
What do you see when you keep your eyes on Jesus? You see the One, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” You see the One who bore the burden of your salvation, who bore the heat of the Father’s wrath for your sin. He endured the most unfair and unjust thing ever, and did not complain. It was not fair that the Lord Jesus should die in your place. But He did so willingly and willfully. And He gives what He earned to those who crucified Him. He humbled Himself to the lowest place to promote you to the presence of God.
The Kingdom of God is like a master of a house, a landowner we cannot understand. He does not reward based on what His eye sees, but according to His goodness. This Kingdom of God is backwards to us, but it is a blessed backwardness. We have a God who wants to give, who wants to bless. He makes us who were last, first. He gives us a seat at the table, a place for all eternity.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.