Summary: The rules of Kingdom living are different from the rules of worldly living.

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Stories Jesus Told:

When the Rules Seem Backward

Matthew 20:1-16

(This sermon works best if you have video capability and can show a brief clip from The Andy Griffith Show episode entitled “The Big House.” This clip is of Barney sharing the rules of the jail with new prisoners who have been brought into town by the state police. Otherwise, a description of the scene will suffice.) We love our rules. Rules help us keep things straight, as Barney says, “to avoid any grief later on.” Rules are good because they let everyone know how the game is supposed to be played, and they help us identify who is not playing the game correctly. Rules in life help us define the direction of our lives. They provide safety for our citizens, and consequences for those who don’t follow them. Rules help us in our drive toward success. We live by such rules as “No pain, no gain,” that rule which says you’ve got to push yourself, and make the sacrifice if you want to succeed. We hold up the Bible and say, “This is the rule-book for life.” We even make up little acronyms that communicate the fact:






Rules help us identify the winners and losers, they help us to avoid mistakes that carry adverse consequences, and rules level the playing field to insure that everyone has an equal opportunity at becoming a winner. Rules are rooted in our sense of justice and fairness. Without rules, there would be anarchy, and it really would be survival of the fittest. We like our rules, and the reality is, we need our rules.

One of the rules we live our lives by is “hard work is the road to success.” Meaning that if we work hard enough, are dedicated enough, eventually we’ll be rewarded. After all, isn’t that what we’re all working for? The reward. Otherwise, what’s the use? And don’t think we preachers are different either. We are just as competitive as the next person. The rules of the game are “do well, preach good, and bring others to Christ, and you’ll be rewarded with a bigger church with a bigger salary.” I mean, seriously, I’ve known very few preachers—well, actually I can’t think of any—who were called to smaller churches or smaller salaries. I’ve known a few who were sent by the Bishop, but they go so unwillingly. But never have I known one who felt called to a smaller church or a smaller salary. I didn’t say there wasn’t one, just that I didn’t know one. So, we all play by the same rules hoping to receive the reward—that is the way of the world.

In today’s parable, we find a group of workers who playing by the rules. Every day, they went to the marketplace to find work. Most laborers were day laborers and it was their practice, especially during the harvest season, to stand around the marketplace seeking employment. One of the rules for day laborers was “no work, no eat.” If your family was going to eat that day, you had to find work. So this was not an uncommon sight at all for Jesus’ disciples. Perhaps some of them had served at one time or another as a day laborer.

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