September 20, 2020

THE COVENANT OF THE CROSS

Passage: Matthew 20: 1-16

The Covenant of the Cross

(A sermon based on Matthew 20: 1-16)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friends in Christ, as you heard in that Gospel reading, there once lived a Vineyard owner. One day he needed help on his, and decided to hire a few workers. Personally, I do not think it is for regular work, maybe it for a busy season, like, planting or harvesting. One would need all the help during such times, we got a few sugarcane farmers around here you know how busy it is during planting and harvesting season.

Anyways, the vineyard owner in the parable, maybe had one of those busy seasons and he needed to recruit help. So, he went out in search of workers to work in his farm. At dawn he found some workers and recruited them to work in his farm. The contract was, he will pay them one denarii for their labour. Similarly, at 9am, at 12pm, at 3pm, and at 5pm, he made agreements and hired people to work in his farm. At the end of the day, the owner called his manager and said:

‘call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

This is where things get complicated. You see friends, those who were hired in the last hour received the same pay as those who worked the whole day. So, the workers who worked for longer hours complained to their boss, in modern words they said something like ‘this not fair!’ They grumbled saying, ‘you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

What do you reckon? Do you think their complaint is valid? Hold on to your thoughts and we spend some time in prayer:

Let us pray:

Gracious Father, your love saves the lost, save us now by the truth of your Word. Help us to serve you by actively listening your Word and receiving it in our hearts, minds, and lives. For we pray in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

‘This is not fair’ is the cry of the workers of the vineyard. Friends, I am going to give you a secret here, you see, whenever someone says ‘it is not fair’, whether it is a child or a matured adult, at the very basic level, what they usually mean is this: they are able to see a problem that no one else seems to be noticing. Now the problem they are seeing could be a real or a perceived matter, but a problem, nonetheless. The cry ‘this is not fair’ identifies a problem at hand and awaits a solution. Speaking of identifying problems, life gives us many problems, some problems are easy to identify but others are very complex.

By the way, let me check with you, who do you think is well equipped to identify problems right away and see the difference between fairness and unfairness? Guess, who can clearly see a problem at hand? In my opinion, it is usually someone who tends to work with numbers. It could be a mathematician, an accountant, or someone who deals with numbers on regular basis, they are gifted to identify problems right away!

From experience, I know this, because, I have a mathematician and an accountant in my household and they are sharp at recognizing problems. They not only see ‘problems’ but have fascination to solve them, no wonder I see them spending time doing a Sudoku or some other puzzle with numbers, trying to solve a problem at hand. For some weird reason, they are attracted to ‘problems’ and spend energies finding solutions. Why do I seem to be picking out on Mathematicians or accountants today? If anything, I am not picking out on them, but I have utmost respect for them. But here is the deal, those who tend to work with numbers spend time crunching them trying to solve problems because the underlying worldview is that ‘numbers don’t lie.’ So, it is easy to determine ‘fair’ from ‘unfairness’ in a world of numbers. Logically then, every ‘problem’ in mathematical world, generally has a solution and explanation.

Let me give you a crazy example, what is the answer for 2+2? Answer is 4, it is that simple and fair. You see friends, numbers don’t lie. There is a logical explanation to things and events in the world of a mathematician or an accountant.

Let’s face it, not all of us are good with math. The other day, I tried something simple on my ‘smart’ phone calculator. I keyed in (10+10) ÷2, can you guess the answer 10. But can you guess the answer from my phone calculator? I kid you not, the answer was 15. Check out this photo, if you don’t believe me.

Once again, numbers don’t lie, so here is what happened, calculator computed this way, because I could not put brackets in my phone calculator, this is how it did the math, first, it divided corresponding numbers 10 by 2 therefore the answer is 5. Later, it added 5 to the other 10 taking it to 15. Because my ‘smart’ phone calculator, crunched numbers differently, we have a different number. There you go, you learned something new today. Because numbers cannot lie, when we get the logic behind a computation, we would be satisfied at times, be the answer be 10 or 15, we can see the logic of a mathematical world. When we get the logic we say, ‘yeah, that seems fair!’

But, whenever we seem to miss the logic behind things, we struggle a big deal and cry out ‘that’s not fair!’ For example, when we see a person who has taken good care of their body die (either due to sickness) but those who have abused their body all their lives and ruined it at every given opportunity somehow manage to live long and healthy life, we wonder, where is the logic in that? ‘How is that fair?’

Whenever we see a young person tragically lose life, due to an accident or an act of violence by someone else we cannot but wonder, ‘how’s that fair?’ How is it fair that some are born with or even become disabled without the fault of their own? What is the logic behind bad things happening to good people? These and many other experiences you might reflect upon are tough questions of life. Lack of logic to things, hits us hard at times, making life difficult to deal with.

The problem in the parable is no different. The logic was clearly missing especially when those who slaved away more hours received same pay as the ones who worked a few minutes. They were disappointed, and grumbled against the owner, how is this just? When we don’t like things, we tend to have a good whinge, don’t we? In that first reading, Israelites whinged (I counted 7 times) about lack of bread and meat in the wilderness. Humans, haven’t changed much since then, by nature, we whinge whenever we are disappointed, we might have evolved and become more sophisticated in the way we whinge, but we whinge anyway. We tend to whinge even more when there is no logic to a problem we are able to clearly see.  At that point, our whinging, quickly turns from pointing to a problem to something even more, a desperate cry for help!

But, let me ask you friend, do you think these workers have a right to whinge about their salary? Are they missing any logic? Is their boss fair to them?

The answer is given to us. In this instance, to know what is fair from unfair, all we need to do is check their work contract. What does the contract say? The contract agreement stipulates the norms of wages. The arrangement owner made with those workers at sunrise are, he will pay them a day’s wages. He probably made similar work contract with the other workers whom he employed at 3pm, and 5pm. So as per the contract, the owner was treating all his workers fairly. Contracts people, they are the real deal! Contracts set the terms, and so much litigation is given in fine print. If ‘numbers don’t lie’, and same goes with contracts too, ‘contracts can’t lie’ either. That is why contracts matter, and all those privacy statements you say ‘yes’ to or click ‘I agree’ really matter! Your work contract spells out your obligations and entitlements. Transactions are measured on the basis of contracts people enter in. Fairness is measured on one’s ability to hold up to their end of the contract. Contracts are there to keep relationships sane.

Be it wedding vows, or those vows we make at other occasions like the baptism of a child, we must be mindful of them. By the logic of the contract, the owner of vineyard got away with his end of the argument with the disgruntled workers. Listen to his explanation, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Wow, how can you argue with that? Numbers don’t lie, contracts can’t lie either and that’s the logic! The boss reckons he is generous man, so, logic stays intact, no foul play in the way wages were paid. How can we pitch fairness against generosity? Doesn’t generosity an act of kindness as opposed to fairness which is earned on the basis of merit?

When Jesus shared this parable, he is teaching us about how God’s kingdom works likes this parable. You see friends, long time ago, when God created us after his likeness, as carriers of His image, the contract was we live in perfect fellowship and relationship with God and his creation (Genesis 1: 26-27). Guess what? that contract was broken as soon as sin entered this creation destroying the God’s image in us and therefore made us enemies of God and one another. With sin entered, selfishness, deceit, idolatry, greed, pride, cruelty, jealousy, you name it, so we started to rebel against God, and failed to maintain perfect relationship with our neighbours. So, to restore the relationship, God did everything he could. First, he gave us various laws, including the Ten Commandments. If we honestly measure ourselves against the Ten Commandments, we would all fail to hold up to our end of the contract.

Here is the good news, just like the owner of the Vineyard, God is generous too. In generosity God made a new covenant with us. This new covenant does not relies on our merits, our good works, and our noble intentions. This new covenant works only through Jesus, the beloved Son of God.

If you ask me, there is an element of unfairness attached to this covenant. You see, Jesus, the man was without sin, he was perfect, yet he was crucified as a criminal. Because, as Isaiah (53) said, Jesus bore our inequity and sin upon him. Quoting Isaiah, Apostle Peter said, ‘He (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Peter 2:24. Through Jesus there is healing and salvation to us for Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love. Jesus shows us God’s love offering forgiveness and eternal life. By the covenant of the cross, Jesus offers salvation, life and hope not just today but in days to come. Tell me friend, does this seem like a fair deal to you?

The saying is true, in God’s kingdom, ‘first shall be last and last shall be first.’ Where your works condemns you, grace of God battles for you and puts you at front as the inheritor of God’s favour. Grace is nothing but undeserved mercy. This mercy is yours because of the cross of Christ. When you are baptised, you are born into the family of God. By the nature of your birth into God’s kingdom, you have become inheritor of all your heavenly father’s gifts. The waters of baptism, brings the treasures of God’s forgiveness, His generous grace and unlimited love into your life. By his mercy, God embraces you with the meal of Jesus body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. You and I don’t deserve it, but the generous heart of Jesus, gives these gifts for us.

Tell me friend, is it fair, we receive these precious gifts of salvation, even though our deeds are dirty and our words destroy others? It is not fair, but hey hear again, by the covenant of the cross, things have been made fair, and you are saved by grace through faith. Let grace of God carry you today, that’s the logic of the gospel!

To this purpose, the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Rev. Jaswanth Kukatlapalli

Pastor at Mackay Community Lutheran Church (Mackay), and

St. Martin’s Lutheran Church (Cannonvale)

Office Address: 44-46 Wellington Street, Mackay, Queensland, 4740