Ps. 27:1-9; Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30; Matthew 20:1-16; Introit Ps. 116.
Render, What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD… I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD (vv. 12, 13, 17).
Of the laborers invited into the Vineyard, who do you suppose loved the Lord most; those engaged first or those invited last having contributed nothing but presence for full benefits?
Is it not those coming to the party least and last? This was Jesus’ point when he brought a small child to sit among the Apostles, a visual of “kingdom greatest”. Today’s parable; Vineyard Laborers, culminates Jesus’ kingdom teaching, upending all human values, flummoxing his disciples, especially Peter.
There was ongoing tension among the Apostles. Eleven brothers railed against Peter, thinking him Jesus’ “favorite”. They wanted clarification, asking Jesus to declare, who was “greatest” in his kingdom (Mt. 18:1). His answer by the visual of a child; the least and most needy, was not accepted and ignored.
Peter countered his “brothers”, seeking to limit his forgiveness of them; seven times seemed a likely theological number. Jesus rebuffed Peter’s limitation, instead commanding unlimited brotherly forgiveness, “seventy times seven” (vv. 21, 22).
Then Jesus again rocked his Apostles; a wealthy young man sought fellowship but was directed to abandon his worldly possessions; the young man departed in sadness.
“Glory” and “reward” are understood in context of two kingdoms. Jesus explained, “[O]nly with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven… [I]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (19:23, 24). Jesus’ “kingdom of heaven is the Christian church”; a clearinghouse for entry into the “kingdom of God”.
Now Peter was torqued, counting on delayed gratification for future benefits. He challenged Jesus, he and the others had done precisely what the rich young man would not; they had left everything to follow, so what would be their reward for early and faithful following (v. 27)?
In Jesus’ Kingdom he is judge who would share judgment with his Apostles, “[I]n the new world [through the NT church], when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of [new] Israel…” (vv. 28, 29).
From Jesus’ “exaltation” on the cross through his coming Parousia, he entered his crucified reign in the church. He and the Apostles execute judgment, now and on the Last Day. Thus, the church not only confesses Jesus “Christ” but “apostolicity” in union of belief and practice.
Apostolic judgment in the church is coordinate with Jesus’ Last Day separation; sheep from goats, wheat from weeds, and those willfully ignorant of judgement, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (25:44). Jesus, conjoined with his Apostles, judge now; either we receive or reject God’s word and Sacrament.
Jesus’ kingdom consists of all over whom he is Shepherd on the Last Day. On that Day he will hand-over his kingdom to the Father; the “kingdom of God”, who will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
Peter was disoriented by Jesus’ warning, the worldly wealth are impeded from the “kingdoms”. Once again, the question of “kingdom greatness” connotes setting aside competitive and comparative status, and disparate benefits among brothers and sisters. For sinful men these comparisons are impossible; but not for God (Mt. 19:26) who begets for entry into his kingdom (Jn. 3:5).
Jesus’ kingdom priority, “the last shall be first”, is the point of the Vineyard parable. Jesus is “householder” and “Lord” in his church. He offers a denarius to early workers, more than sufficient for daily bread. But the Lord notoriously is a poor business man; compassionately inviting everyone in the public square into his Vineyard enterprise.
When the “last” workers arrive, the end-of-day whistle is about to blow. These last contributed no effort in advance of the Vineyard except to increase its population, witnessing to the Lord’s gracious character.
But first workers, and here we think of Peter, who had toiled through the entire day could only see the Lord’s generosity as drain at expense of their effort.
These first workers had taken their eyes off the Vineyard purpose, becoming angry at disparate treatment; “a scandal of equality”. The early and faithful saw themselves victims, not beneficiaries of the Lord’s extravagant Table, graciously providing on-going provision and wine.
Grace is the fundamental currency of both kingdoms, presupposing an equality of gain. All receive, by grace, that which God provides in the same portion. Jesus is our reward of whom all participate as they desire. Some more and more; some sadly, not so much.
Frightening, on the other hand, is judgment on those having taken eyes off the vineyard’s Benefit. To these, scandalized by his grace; the Lord dispatches them, “Take what belongs to you and go” (20:14a).
Following Jesus’ Vineyard parable, he announced, a third time, his imminent Passion (20:17-19), when he would be invested into his kingdom as Son of Man (Dan. 7:13, 14) and glory manifest.
Beginning with Gethsemane Jesus invited his early workers to witness his glory. All refused, abandoned, betrayed, and failed to recognize their Lord’s reign on the cross for God’s love of man.
The Apostles would be forgiven and restored to office in Jesus’ kingdom in the Resurrection. Jesus appeared, breathing the HS into them (Jn. 20:22, 23) for judgment in the church.
Jesus comes for faith and forgiveness, for separation and division, judgment and condemnation (10:34-39). Today Jesus comes to you, handing-over his body and blood in word and Sacrament for repentance, faith, forgiveness, purification, and sanctification in advance of the day he will hand you into his Father’s kingdom.
Today Jesus is present, crucified Son of Man, flanked not only by angels and archangels, but intimately by apostolic brothers sitting on thrones witnessing our confession, delivered to the saints “once for all” (Jude 3).
By Baptism’s gift of spiritual poverty, we participate in the Lord’s Vineyard, for which we offer our “sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” By his Sacrament of body and blood Jesus binds himself to us; the assurance that on our last day or Parousia, we will be received into the “kingdom of God”. Amen.