Third Week in Epiphany – Monday
So the last shall be first, and the first last. – Matthew 20:16.
Another warning parable in addition to that of yesterday. – “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny 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 unto them: ‘Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.’ And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle and saith unto them: ‘Why stand ye here all the day idle?’ They say unto him: ‘Because no man hath hired us.’ He saith unto them: ‘Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.’ So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward: ‘Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.’ And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying: ‘These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said: ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong. Didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way. I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?’” (Matthew 20:1-15). “So the last shall be first, and the first last,” said Jesus at the end of this parable (v. 16).
In the kingdom of God nothing but grace avails. Salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9) …of his merit, of his effort, of his track-record of faithfulness, of his longevity in the household of God. The “penny” was then a day’s wages for an unskilled worker, and all laborers in the parable received the same regardless of their time “on the clock.” The gracious gift of final salvation, earned and secured by Christ for ALL, is bestowed equally upon ALL believers, whether they be “first” or “last”. And it is God’s will, of His great goodness for Christ’s sake, to make the last equal to the first so that His universal grace is evident to all. The warning here is that any “laborer” who would boast of his own pitiful merit and accuse His holy and righteous God of unjust partiality shall be “last” in such a way that, “fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4), he cannot remain in the kingdom of God.
From this tragic end of arrogance may God graciously preserve us!
PRAYER. – Lord God, dear Heavenly Father, who didst effectually call us by the Gospel into Thy kingdom of grace, as into Thy vineyard, some of us already as infants through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, I thank Thee for Thine unmerited favor bestowed upon me, a poor, wretched sinner. And I beg Thee that, by the work of Thy Holy Spirit through Thy powerful Gospel, I may continue to trust solely in the merit of Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ, my Savior, and remain the beneficiary of Thy gracious favor, until through the same I enter eternal bliss in heaven. Amen.
All righteousness by works is vain; the Law brings condemnation.
True righteousness by faith I gain; Christ’s work is my salvation.
His death, that perfect sacrifice, has paid the all-sufficient price;
And pure I stand before Him.
My guilt, O Father, Thou hast laid on Christ, Thy Son, my Savior.
Lord Jesus, Thou my debt hast paid and gained for me God’s favor.
O Holy Ghost, Thou Fount of Grace, the good in me to Thee I trace;
In faith do Thou preserve me.
Hymn 375, 4 and 5 (TLH)