Summary: Proper 20 (A). We toil and struggle against sin, to live righteously, But it does not give us life. Christ gives to us freely and aboundantly, all we need for this life and the next.

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J. J.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,

O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

“The early bird gets the worm”

In our text today, Jesus tells His disciples another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. You will recall that He told them He was the Messiah, the Promised One of God, and that He was the Rock, and that in and through Him they would find Peace. He told them that the Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of ways of this world. So instead of seeking to be the greatest, they would be like a little child, and be the least. For in the Kingdom of Heaven, it is Keepers, Weepers, Losers, Finders.

And He told them that in the Kingdom of Heaven, there is unity. One shepherd, one flock. “One is the loveliest number.” And that unity is possible because of the greatest of God’s forgiveness. And forgiveness that is flowing, deep, and wide.

And now He tells them that in the Kingdom, Christ gives abundantly and freely, above and beyond all we need, both now and in the age to come. He explained it like this.

The master of the house, that is the owner, had a vineyard. He had cultivating or pruning or harvesting to do and he needed workers. So he goes out to the marketplace, to the street corner, where the laborers are hanging out. The master goes out early, 6 a.m., and he finds them there already.

The workers bargain it out, and agree to work for the prevailing wage. They come to the vineyard and get to work. The early bird gets the worm, as the saying goes.

The master hires more workers at nine, at noon, and again at three o’clock. And He hires even more right before quitting time. The whistle blows, the day is done. Payday is here. So the Master has the cashier to pay the latecomers first, and so on, till everyone is paid. Everyone receives a full day’s pay. But not all are happy, some are grumbling.

Who is grumbling? The early birds. They have their eyes on themselves and their rights. They say, “This isn’t fair. We worked in this heat.” But most of the workers worked in the heat. Those who came at nine and at noon were in the vineyard and under the scorching sun, just as much as those who started at six in the morning. Others had felt the heat of the day. But they are not grumbling, only the early birds. In spite of what is said about the heat, it must be something else.

The distinction between the grumblers and the non-grumblers wasn’t who had worked in the heat, and who hadn’t. What was it? Other then the time of day they started, what was different about the early birds? This -- they struck a bargain with the Master: we will work, if you pay us for our work.

The early birds came to the Master’s vineyard on their terms. They got going, and they bargained with the Master. They would come to His vineyard, and work, but He would have to give them what they deserved. That’s the early bird way. That’s the American way. Work hard. Be better. And you will get what you deserve. A full prevailing wage. They had earned the wage. Or so they thought.

The Master, however, knew better. Listen to His words, “I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.” He did not say, “as I pay to you,” but “as I give to you.” The Master knew that even calling them to His vineyard, early that morning, was a gift.

But the early birds weren’t about to receive a gift. They were determined to make it on their own. It was a matter of pride. They were independent, self-made, and self-absorbed. They rally together, and go to the boss. “This isn’t fair! We have worked harder and longer than all those guys. We did more, we should get more, we deserve more!”

“I have paid you what was owed you. I have given you exactly what you deserve,” said the Master. “Now take your pay, and get out of here.” And He sent them away. The Master told them to take their wage and go. Go away. The relationship, such as it was, was over. Leave the vineyard, leave the kingdom of heaven. The early birds got the worm alright. Go away and die. In the grave. In the darkness. Where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. They would not receive the Master’s gift. They relied on their work, their effort. They did not rely on His promise, but they relied on themselves. They received what they deserved, and so much less than what could have been theirs.

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