Believe it or not, this Sunday begins the short period of Pre-Lent, which makes up the three Sundays immediately preceding Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten journey to Holy Week and Easter. As we'll see, the focus of these three weeks is God's grace. This focus gets us ready for Lent's change of perspective when we make a mindful examination of our own sinfulness and need of a Savior.
O LORD, we beseech Thee favorably to hear the prayers of Thy people: that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by Thy goodness, for the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
-- Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
-Matthew 20:1–16 (NKJV)
God's grace is undeserved. This is the clear teaching of Jesus's parable of the laborers. Our Lord does not deal with us according to what we earn or deserve. Instead, he chooses to lavish undeserved grace, mercy, and love on us solely for the sake of Christ Jesus. This should cause us to rejoice, and when we reflect on God's mercy toward us it often does. Unfortunately, when we think about the blessings and forgiveness God shows others, our reaction is not always one of gratitude and praise. Many times we react like the ungrateful laborers, insisting that God is not fair and suggesting that we somehow did not get what we deserve.
Thankfully it is true that God is not fair in his dealings with us and does not give us what we deserve. If he did, we would receive only wrath and condemnation as the just payment for our sin. Instead, like the laborers who worked for only an hour, we receive the fullness of God's reward. This is no credit to us. This is not the wages due us. We receive it all with empty hands, grateful for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who has earned all this and more for all who call upon his name in humble faith.
Thanks be to God!
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash