daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 25th Sunday of the Year, September 24, 2017
Isaiah 55:6-9, Psalm 144, Philippians 1:20-24, 27, Matthew 20:1-16

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted


"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" (Matthew 20:1-2).

This is the parable of the vineyard owner who hired laborers for his vineyard. Early in the morning he hired those he needed and agreed to pay them each a denarius, the usual daily wage for a laborer. Then at different hours of the day (9 AM, 12 noon, 3 PM, and 5 PM) he went out again, and each time he saw more people in the marketplace who were unemployed. Each time he told them also to go and work in his vineyard and, without mentioning how much he would pay them, simply said that he would pay them whatever is just. So some worked a full day, others less, and the last group hired at the eleventh hour (5 PM) worked only one hour, for the work day ended at the twelfth hour (6 PM), when they were all paid. Those who only worked a few hours or only one hour didn't know how much they were going to get. They simply trusted the owner when he promised to give them whatever was just.

But then at the last hour everyone got a big surprise. The last hired are paid first and each is given a full day's wage, a denarius, payment for a full day of work, even though these last hired only worked one hour. So those who were hired early in the morning and had worked a full day thought that they would surely be given more than these last ones, that is, more than the regular day's wage of one denarius, which they had agreed on. But they didn't. They also received one denarius, just like those who worked only one hour. They, of course, complained that this wasn't fair. Since they worked more, they thought that they should be paid more. But the master just sends them away, telling them that he is giving them what he had promised and what they had agreed on.

Then the master indicates that he likes to be generous with his money to these poor unemployed men who through no fault of their own had no job and no way even to get food for themselves and their family.

But why did he give them a full day's wage, when they only worked one hour? Presumably it was because the owner realized that these latecomers and their families still had to eat a full day's amount of food even though they could only find one hour of work. The owner was compassionate. He wanted to help these poor men with his wealth. So he freely gave to these latecomers what they needed to live on, even though they had not worked for it or earned it by their work.

We should do the same with our wealth. We should use it compassionately and generously to help those in need. God gives us wealth to use for others, to be generous with, to give to those who are in need. We do not have to demand that everyone earn their own way, but those who can should. No injustice was done here to anyone.

The surprising thing about this parable is the vineyard owner's great compassion and generosity. No one got less than he deserved, but some got more than they worked for, due to their need and to the compassionate generosity of the owner of the vineyard. This is an example that we should all follow, each according to his means. Jesus says that this is what the kingdom of God is like - "For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder ..." (Matthew 20:1). If we are members of the kingdom, this is how we should behave. We should use our wealth with compassion and generosity for the poor.

But this parable is also meant to show us what God is like and how he treats us, the workers in his vineyard, the members of his kingdom. He is like this vineyard owner. He wants to give us eternal life, and he invites us to work in his kingdom, his vineyard. Some start early in the morning. Others start later, and some start when they are nearly on their deathbed, at the eleventh hour of their life. Yet all who believe in Christ and dedicate themselves to working in his vineyard - if they remain faithful - will make it into heaven and get eternal life. It doesn't matter how long we work in the vineyard or how early or late in life we start working. As long as we join the kingdom and dedicate ourselves to it with all our resources - and remain faithful - we will get to heaven and enjoy eternal life. God is extremely generous. Even if we enter the kingdom by believing in Jesus at the eleventh hour of our life, as did the thief on the cross, we will receive eternal life in heaven. This is how generous God is.

This should greatly encourage and motivate everyone to accept Christ with faith and commit his life to him. After this parable, no one can anymore say: "It is now too late in life for me to start working in the Lord's vineyard, and even if I did, what sort of reward would God give me, starting so late in life. The reward would be so slight that it wouldn't be worth the effort to convert and enter the kingdom." But this parable says: "Not so! No matter when you enter the kingdom, even if it is at the eleventh hour of your life, you will still get a full day's wage. You will still receive eternal life in heaven with God." So it is never too late to start, and it is always worthwhile to enter the kingdom and start working in the Lord's vineyard.

Furthermore, the eternal life that God gives us is something that no one deserves or can earn by his own work, no matter how many hours he works or how early he started working. Eternal life is a free gift that God gives to all who put their faith in Christ and enter his kingdom, his vineyard, even if they enter at the eleventh hour of their life.

The truth is that we don't really earn eternal life by working in God's vineyard. No one can earn eternal life by working. Eternal life comes to us only by Christ's work on the cross, where he made reparation for our sins, and by our faith in him, which enables God to reckon the merits of Christ's work on the cross to all who put their faith in him. So our entrance into eternal life does not depend on our work or on how long we work, but rather on our faith in Christ.

But genuine faith in Christ will inspire us to work in his kingdom, and our work will be the visible evidence of our saving faith in Christ.

In the parable of the pounds, Jesus teaches us that more work will be rewarded more, and less work will be rewarded less. In the parable of the pounds a nobleman gives each of his servants one pound to trade with. The one who made ten more pounds with his one pound was rewarded by being put in charge of ten cities, while the one who made five more pounds with his one pound was put in charge of five cities (Luke 19:16-19). But the one who didn't do anything with his pound had it removed from him by his master (Luke 19:24). Lack of use of the pound is lack of good works, meaning lack of progressive sanctification, which means that this person really didn't have justifying faith, or if he did, that he lost it. Thus our progressive growth in sanctification is rewarded proportionately.

But our basic justification or being declared righteous by God, by our faith in Christ, because of his atoning work on the cross, makes all believers righteous and heirs of eternal life, just as all the workers in the vineyard receive the same full daily wage, no matter how early they started or how long they worked, even if they only worked one hour and started working at the eleventh hour of their life.


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