The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 24, 2023
Some of you may recall your high school or college days and taking an Economics class, often abbreviated by calling it “Econ.” Some of you may be taking an Econ class right now. There are lots of different economic theories out there, including supply and demand, which is when the price of something is dependent on how much (or how little) of that good or service is available. Another theory is laissez-faire capitalism, from the French meaning “let do,” or “leave alone,” which is where government intervention like regulation, subsidies, trade restrictions, etc., are opposed, thereby allowing for self-regulation within the economy. Still another economic theory is something called new growth that centers on entrepreneurship, knowledge, innovation and technological advancement as the agents behind economic growth (11 Types of Economic Theories Aspiring Economists Should Know | Indeed.com). I think we have another category of economics in today’s Gospel lesson with Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. I call this “upside-down economics,” because from a human perspective, it is very upside-down. Paying everyone the same wage, whether they’ve worked all day long or just one hour, seems very strange to us. But in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom where the last are first and the first are last (Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30), this is how it works. At the end of the day, everyone working in the vineyard of our Lord receives the same thing, whether they’ve been in the vineyard all their lives or for a very short time. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard serves as the basis for preaching today under the theme, “Upside-Down Economics.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The divine economy of God’s upside-down kingdom doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t make sense to us because this is not how the world that we know operates. People who work more get paid more, right? Well, they should, but as we know, that doesn’t always happen in the world, does it? There can be great inequalities in who gets paid what in this world. Our response to all of this may well be what children are often quick to point out when they see something that’s not right. They will say (or shout): “That’s not fair!” You know how this goes: “Hey, she got a bigger piece of cake than I did! That’s not fair!” “How come I have to go to bed earlier than he does? That’s not fair!” “Why do I have to come home so early when all of my friends get to stay out later? That’s not fair!” But it’s not just children and teens who say this. Adults do as well. We wrestle with the fairness factor in life, and like those workers in the vineyard, this can easily lead to grumbling on our part. The original word here for “grumble” (γογγύζω) is the same word that the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), used to describe the children of Israel who grumbled not just against Moses and Aaron, but against the Lord (Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:2, 27, 36). Why is this important? Because “… in such an attitude [of grumbling] God is reduced to human standards and is robbed, or is in process of being robbed, of His sovereignty in relation to the people. This is why the murmuring of the people is a tempting of God (Ex. 17:2 etc.) or a scorning of God…” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, ed. by Gerhard Kittel. Grand Rapids/London: Eerdmans, 1964; p. 730).
We see only a small sliver of the total picture of life, and yet from our limited perspective, we often question what God is doing. The Lord speaks to us through the prophet Isaiah in today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 55:6-9), reminding us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8-9). In our wildest dreams, could we ever have imagined that God’s thoughts would lead him to send his own Son to become a human being like us in every respect, except for sin (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15)? Could we ever have imagined that God’s ways would lead him to subject his very Son as the sacrifice for all of our sin? This, too, is upside-down economics. By entering our world and becoming one of us, by dying the death we deserved because of our sin – our grumbling dissatisfaction and rebellion against God’s ways and thoughts – Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. The full payment of our debt of sin has been taken over by Jesus. In his death, we have received forgiveness, life and salvation. This is what we call grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
By the grace of God in Christ Jesus, we are – all of us – workers in God’s vineyard. This isn’t just about church workers – pastors, DCEs, teachers, etc. This is about every baptized believer called to be a witness of Christ as we seek to join Jesus on his mission in daily life, at home, work, school. Wherever we may be, that is our mission field. That is our vineyard. For some of us, our time working in the vineyard may be longer; for some of us, it may be shorter. Does a longer time in the vineyard therefore mean that we have earned a greater reward from God? That God somehow “owes” us? The question that the vineyard owner asked the disgruntled workers who were expecting more is a good question for us to wrestle with: “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15b). The original language here puts it like this: “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” The vineyard owner asks: “Is your eye evil – filled with anger and envy – because I am good and generous?”
God’s upside-down economics means that we all receive the same thing – the same gift and blessing – regardless of how short or long we may have labored in his vineyard. At the end of the day, it is the Lord’s vineyard, not our own. He is the owner; we are merely the workers. Whatever time that the Lord allows us to work in his vineyard, let this be done in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving so that others may see Christ in us and through us. It is as St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle lesson – a letter written while he was in prison for the sake of the Gospel: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
Fellow laborers in the Lord’s vineyard, may our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. May God make it so, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
other sermons in this series