At first sight, this text has nothing to do with undeserved grace or does it? I was astonied by this year’s (B) lectionary reading.
Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold,[and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (Matthew 19:27-30, NRSV)
Where was the familiar year A lectionary text of the Workers in the Vineyard who received the same amount of pay no matter how many hours they worked? Even this text used to puzzle me. What do you think? Is it fair that all get the same wage for different amounts of work? Human logic does not think so. How should we then understand this?
Think about the wage of the workers as grace. Then evert man got enough of grace. And this is the logic of grace: it’s shared free of charge for anyone who needs it as much as needed. It will never run out, there’s enough for anyone and everyone, even though the need would be endless. You can’t earn it, it will be freely given. We don’t need to be jealous of each other because there’s always plenty of grace and it covers everything. A perfect text to talk about undeserved grace, don’t you think? But this year we use the year B lectionary text where Peter wants to know what’s in for the ones who believe in and serve God.
What’s in it for you?
That’s the question: what’s in it for me? Isn’t it the most familiar question these days. People don’t want to do or learn anything if there is something in it for them.
Utilitarianism seems to matter most in every area of life. We want to benefit from everything, like collecting more and more benefits would make our life richer. However, we still experience emptiness even in the midst of success. Hence utilitarianism leads astray. We can’t buy, earn or collect happiness or well-being. So is this all there is to life?
I have good news for you. This is not everything. Our God is good and he loves you endlessly and he has a good plan for you. This is where also today’s text guides us even though it didn’t appear to be so from the beginning.
This conversation between Peter and Jesus was held right after a rich young man had asked Jesus how he could get eternal life. He thought he could do or donate something in order to have a treasure in heaven. When Jesus told him to give up his riches he could not do it and turned away. We can’t earn salvation by our own effort, merit or riches. Accepting grace can be too humbling an experience for many and they turn away.
After the rich young man left, Peter started to inquire after his own rewards. He reminds Jesus that he has given up everything to follow him so surely he – and other disciples – will merit some rewards. And, sure, Jesus does promise eternal life for everyone who follows him. Jesus does not talk about earthly blessings but he promises eternal and spiritual blessings to all who follow Jesus and accepts his grace.
How can I receive eternal life?
In the end, Jesus said, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”. Many think they get to heaven because they have lived outwardly a decent life but the Bible does not promise us that.
Instead, the Bible promises everyone who believes in Jesus will gain eternal life. No references required. We’re only asked if we want and need to accept the grace of God. Truly, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.b
So being successful in life does not guarantee a place in heaven. So you can relax even though your life right now would outwardly be a mess. The most important thing is the attitude of your heart, not outwardly success.
Life can be unfair but God is not. He sees you and knows what’s going on in your life even though nobody else would see you. Even though you might be however small and invisible, among the last, you have a special place in Jesus’ heart.
That’s what faith is all about: a heart connection to Jesus. And this connection opens up new sights into our lives. This visible world is not all there is. God is real and we are called to live close to him.
It is really freeing to realize also my sins have been reconciled on the cross. I can’t do anything for my salvation but believingly receive the gift of redemption, also called undeserved grace. When the fear of imperfect does not suppress my energy, I am free to live fully.
What does bring happiness?
But let’s go back to Peter. When this conversation with Peter and Jesus took place, Peter had not yet grown to his full spiritual potential. That’s why he still inquired after rewards and benefits. But at least Peter knew to whom to turn. That’s why it is no wonder he grew into a passionate witness of Jesus as we know from church history.
Paul, in today’s New Testament reading, shows us an example of how to go for Jesus and not just for some possible rewards. He shows us how the utilitarian way of life does not bring that kind of happiness and blessings what knowing Jesus does.
Paul regards everything else but knowing Christ as a loss. This might feel a bit extreme, especially when everything is going well in our lives. But when we have lost everything but Christ, we realize he is more than enough. Everything pales in comparison to Christ.
Anyhow the one thing that underlines the maturity of Paul’s faith is his understanding of ending all effort to please God on his own and trusting solely in Jesus and his grace for salvation. He wants increasingly get to know Christ and his resurrection power and become more like him.
How does undeserved grace work?
At this point, it is important to remember also we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. It is time for us, too, to stop trying to save ourselves and rely solely on Christ. Know that this does not mean we’d start to live as we please. No. Even Paul knows he still has ways to go but he will do everything to make it a reality. We are called to this too.
This does not happen by our own power, self-help does not work. But it happens by relying on Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit work within us. The power of God’s grace makes this happen. Amazingly, the same power that raised Christ from death is available for us. Let’s receive it.
So let’s not even try to manage on our own. Let’s let God have the freedom to do in and through us whatever he wants to. And that’s when we are slowly becoming a bit more like Christ.
Then the change is not self-empowered, outwardly or faked but grace-empowered, inwardly and real.
I’ve realized I need to rely on God and his empowering grace daily. Otherwise, I will easily fall back to self-reliant, legalistic and outwardly performing of life and faith.
When I surrender to Jesus in the morning, I will remember to live in grace for the rest of the day. I remember that neither my life nor salvation is not based on me but Jesus. Then I am overcome with great joy.
There’s no way I had ever deserved God’s love or grace (talk about undeserved grace!) yet I can receive them in faith. And so can you. You can live on grace every day of your life knowing you are not alone. God is with you and will guide you home. With the words of Romans 9:16: “So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy”.
I know this was a longer post than usual but I wanted to share with you my sermon this past Sunday. Hopefully, this blessed you in some way or another. Enjoy undeserved grace! Revel in it! And pass it on!