Pentecost 16A, September 20, 2020

New Covenant, Matthew 20:1-16

“Give Me What I Deserve! Really?”

     When it comes to people’s favorite parables, this not one that tops the list. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like this, a landowner went to Lowes early in the morning to hire day laborers standing outside the store. They agreed on the usual daily wage and went into his vineyard. At 9 o’clock, he needed more 5 gallon buckets and went back to Lowes. He saw people standing around and asked, ‘Ya wanna pick grapes? I’ll pay ya what’s right.’ And so off they went into the field. He did the same thing at noon when he needed more gloves and at 3 when he needed more tarps. Then, at 5, he needed duct tape and saw people standing around. He asks, ‘Why aren’t you working?’ They answer, ‘Because no one’s hired us.’ He responds, ‘Get in the truck. I’ll hire ya. We still have grapes to pick.’” Notice, he doesn’t ask them why they haven’t been hired, all he does is extend an invitation which’ll lead to some money for the day.

An hour later, the whistle blows and the owner tells his manager, “Pay the workers, beginning with the last ones hired.” They receive the usual daily wage, what they need to feed their family. When those hired at 6am get to the front of the line, they think they’re going to receive more, but that’s not what happens. Instead, every worker, no matter how many hours they worked, gets the same amount. The usual daily wage, what they need.

Needless to say, they’re upset and they let the landowner know it. They say, “This isn’t fair. They worked an hour. We worked all day in the scorching heat.” “Look pal,” the landowner replies. “I paid you a wage you can live on. I gave you what you need. A wage we both agreed to. Now go. Are you saying I don’t have a right to do what I want with my money? Or are you jealous because I’m generous?

This is when we realize, this is no ordinary vineyard and no ordinary landowner. This is as Jesus says at the outset, “What the kingdom of heaven is like.”

Through the telling of this parable, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a place where all are equally deserving, where all are equally worthy, where all are equally valued. In the kingdom things aren’t based on merit, but on God’ generosity. The kingdom is based on God generously giving everyone what they need, not what we’ve earned or what we deserve.

As Pastor James Somerville asks, “Do we really want what we deserve from God?” Do we want God to deal with us fairly? Or, generously? Do we want God to give us what we deserve? What we’ve earned? Or what we need? Based on the choices we’ve made and the sins we’ve committed, have we earned God’s love? Do we deserve God’s mercy? We don’t really want what we deserve from God, do we? But certainly, we want what we need from God, because, we all are in need of God’s generous gifts of mercy and love.

We don’t know what happens the next day. We don’t know who shows up for work or who agrees to go work in the vineyard. But what we can be assured of is that the landowner shows up, God shows up. Morning after morning, hour after hour, all day, every day, God shows up, inviting us into the vineyard (the kingdom) and offering us what we need. Not because we’ve earned it or because we deserve it. But because God is generous with God’s gifts of love and grace and God generously gives each of us what we need. Amen.


Rev. Bradley A. Walmer,
a 2008 graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary, where he received his Master of Divinity degree and was awarded the 2008 Rev. Delores Berry prize for preaching. He was ordained into Christian ministry by the Lebanon Association of the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ on June 1, 2008. Prior to beginning his pastorate here at New Covenant on August 1, 2015, he served as the pastor of St. Paul’s Summer Hill UCC in Auburn, Pa  (located southeast of Pottsville, PA).

Pastor Brad and his wife Michelle were born and raised in Lebanon County and now reside in the area with their dog, Barkley.


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