No. 04. “Is Jesus Allowed to Be Generous?”

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September 21, 2008 Bothwell & Clachan


Jesus Wants Me to Do What? - No. 04. “Is Jesus Allowed to Be Generous?”

Matthew 20:1-16



Is Jesus allowed to be generous?  In order to answer that question I need to ask you two more questions. Have you ever been envious? Have you ever been jealous? If so, this sermon is for you. So is Jesus allowed to be generous?  Before you answer that, we still need to ask another question. I’m sure many of us have heard of some nasty old codger who accepted Jesus on his deathbed? Were you happy for him? I’ve heard of Baptist people who really got upset when God showed that kind of mercy.  They actually appeared sorry that the older fellow wasn’t about to get what they thought should be coming to him. Now you do not have to admit to that type of thinking, but if you were ever tempted to think that way then this sermon about Jesus’ generosity is for you too. In the Bible reading earlier, a character in one of Jesus’ parable stories asked this question:  Matthew 20:15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'


Then to make his point Jesus again repeats, with a bit of a twist, what he had just earlier said to the disciples: 16"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

At the end of the last chapter he had said:

Matthew 19:30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.)


Envy Is Satan's Best Weapon

We like to repeat those “first shall be last” proverbs of Jesus, but we are we as quick to claim them when it happens to someone else? Envy is still considered as one of the so-called “deadly” sins and can be a great temptation to us all.

There is a fable that Satan's agents were failing in their various attempts to draw into sin a holy man who lived as a hermit in the desert of northern Africa. Every attempt had met with failure; so Satan, angered with the incompetence of his subordinates, became personally involved in the case. He said, "The reason you have failed is that your methods are too crude for one such as this. Watch this."

He then approached the holy man with great care and whispered softly in his ear, "Your brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria." Instantly the holy man's face showed that Satan had been successful: a great scowl formed over his mouth and his eyes tightened up.

"Envy," said Satan, "is often our best weapon against those who seek holiness.[1]

Warding Off Jealousy

Once when the famous theologian, John Calvin was sending a letter to his close friend Pierre Viret by one of a pair of students, he noticed that the other was a little jealous at not being the messenger. Calvin quickly dashed off another letter to Viret. The letter contained only the request that Viret pretend it was a valuable letter.[2]

Envy and Jealousy: Jealousy and envy. And no, life is not fair.

Yesterday the Toronto Argonauts used a new quarterback when they faced the Stampeders in Calgary. The Argos new head coach Don Matthews decided that Cody Pickett would get the ball, replacing starter Kerry Joseph.  Joseph, the CFL's outstanding player last season, had started all 11 games this season for the 4-7 Argos.

…"Is it fair? No," said Matthews. "But then again life isn't fair."[3]

As the movie “The Princess Bride” says: “Life isn’t fair Princess, and anyone who says it is is just trying to sell you something.”

The Setting

So what do these themes of envy and jealousy have to do with today’s message?  Well, Jesus had just sent away the Rich Young Ruler. You remember him, don’t you? He was the nice rich religious fellow who had done everything right except for one thing. He was putting more faith and trust in his money than he was in Jesus.

The disciples are shocked that Jesus lets this rich kid walk away. In their culture being rich meant that God loved you. Period. After the dust had settled Peter asks another of his famous “let-me-see-if-I-can-put-my-foot-in-my-mouth-kind-of-questions.”

“Hey, Jesus, we gave up everything to follow you. So what’s in it for us?

You could have heard a pin drop. One of the other disciples must have muttered under his breath “Oh, no, not again.”


It does sound like a rude question. I guess the challenge comes for us, like it did for Peter, if we assume that because we have been part of the Church for years and years that we are owed something by God. It's easy to think that somehow we deserve it. We come to expect it. We even plan for it.   

A story is told of the lady who had a stranger appear at her door and simply handed her a $100 bill. She was dumbfounded! Then the same thing happened the next day. and the next and the next. For thirty straight days this stranger gave her $100 without explanation. On the 31st day the lady was waiting at the door when she saw the man coming down the street. But then he passed her house and walked up to her neighbor's house, and gave her a $100 bill! The first lady was indignant and yelled at the guy, "Hey, where's my $100 bill?"

In a similar way here Peter demands to know: “Hey, Jesus, we gave up everything to follow you. So what’s in it for us? 

Maybe Peter was having a temporary brain “cramp.” He appears to be oblivious to the many times he has already “blown” it.  He can only zero in on the potential undeserved rewards.

I would have expected that God would then reach out with his “heavenly-bug-zapper” and fry Peter on the spot. But no. Instead, Jesus just looks at him and says, Don’t worry, Peter You’ll get yours.  Both now and later.”

To get across this Jesus-generosity principle, which the Bible calls “grace,” Jesus tells this curious story of the overly generous vineyard owner who doesn’t appear to know that he only has to pay people for the hours that they have actually worked.

Matthew 20:1-16 Parable of Vineyard Owner

Today when we hear of labor disputes, it is often the workers demanding “parity.” “Equal pay for equal work.” It seems reasonable enough.


The actions of the vineyard owner in this parable in Matthew 20:1-16 are unfair. They would be fought tooth and nail by any union grievance committee. Why should everyone get equal pay for unequal work?


But this parable is not about labor relations. It’s not about fairness. It is about the gift of grace.

Grace is a hard word to define. Phillip Yancey once wrote a book, in which he tried to define this concept of grace. He humorously entitled it “Grace is Not a Blue-eyed Blonde.”  At youth group the leaders sometimes use an acronym to define Grace. G.R.A.C.E. “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” A part of it is the Generous, un-earned loving kindness that we receive from God. Although it might be hard to define, we certainly know it when we see it or experience it for ourselves.

Sometimes it does appear that some people are receiving more of God's grace than others. But as Christians we live, not in a world of justice, but of grace.[4]  In this week’s e-zine “Rumours,” Ralph Milton tried to describe how “grace” works:

All we need to do is say “Yes,” and God gives us the whole bundle.


Love, whether this is the love of one person for another, or God’s love of us – is not divisible. Nobody gets more of God’s love than anyone else.


Each one of us gets it all.[5]

I want to share with you a couple of stories that each try to illustrate this concept.


God's Fairness

Robert De Moor writes: Back in Ontario when the apples ripened, Mom would sit all seven of us down, Dad included, with pans and paring knives until the mountain of fruit was reduced to neat rows of filled canning jars. She never bothered keeping track of how many we did, though the younger ones undoubtedly proved more of a nuisance than a help: cut fingers, squabbles over who got which pan, apple core fights. But when the job was done, the reward for everyone was the same: the largest chocolate dipped cone money could buy.

A stickler might argue it wasn't quite fair since the older ones actually peeled apples. But I can't remember anyone complaining about it. A family understands it operates under a different set of norms than a courtroom. In fact, when the store ran out of ice cream and my younger brother had to make do with a Popsicle, we felt sorry for him despite his lack of productivity (he'd eaten all the apples he'd peeled that day--both of them). God wants all his children to enjoy the complete fullness of (his gracious gift of) eternal life. No true child of God wants it any other way.[6]

Professor Takes Students' Tests for Them

Denise Banderman also has a true-life example that illustrates this parable’s teaching. She writes: In the spring of 2002, I left work early so I could have some uninterrupted study time before my final exam in the Youth Ministry class at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri. When I got to class, everybody was doing their last-minute studying. The teacher came in and said he would review with us before the test. Most of his review came right from the study guide, but there were some things he was reviewing that I had never heard. When questioned about it, he said they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. We couldn't argue with that.

Finally it was time to take the test. "Leave them face down on the desk until everyone has one, and I'll tell you to start," our professor, Dr. Tom Hufty, instructed.

When we turned them over, to my astonishment every answer on the test was filled in. My name was even written on the exam in red ink. The bottom of the last page said: "This is the end of the exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an A on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A. You have just experienced grace."

Dr. Hufty then went around the room and asked each student individually, "What is your grade? Do you deserve the grade you are receiving? How much did all your studying for this exam help you achieve your final grade?"

Then he said, "Some things you learn from lectures, some things you learn from research, but some things you can only learn from experience. You've just experienced grace. One hundred years from now, if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, your name will be written down in a book, and you will have had nothing to do with writing it there. That will be the ultimate grace experience."[7]



Is Jesus allowed to be generous? Are we willing to allow him to be generous to those who don’t appear to deserve it? Do we see the irony in that approach? After all, don’t we, like Peter, sometimes appear to just assume that we are deserving? But if Jesus is not allowed to be generous, where would we really be?

Our closing hymn reflects the joy of being sure of the generosity of Jesus. Hymn #437 “Blessed Assurance”


[1] Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Baker 1993, p. 121.

[2] "John Calvin," Christian History, no. 12.


[4] David Beckett, That's Not Fair!

[5] R U M O R S # 519  Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor  2008-09-14

[6] Robert De Moor in The Banner. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 3.

[7] Denise Banderman, Hannibal, Missouri

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