The Sunday called Septuagesima, or the third Sunday before Lent.
O LORD, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly pun- ished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ
our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Today, Septuagesima Sunday, begins the period of Shrovetide (Pre-Lenten period) in the Church Calendar. The great worth of the Church Calendar gives us a chronological perspective of the life of Christ and His Gospel. This is a time to begin preparing ourselves for the solemn observance of Lent which leads up to Calvary. Septuagesima is exactly sixty-three days before Easter. Sexagesima is fifty-six prior, and Quinquagesima forty-nine. We owe the designation of the three primary Sundays before Lent to St. Gregory the Great, and to his rendering the first lectionary readings for the church calendar. Though he was called Pope, he was rather the Bishop of Rome who was a devout minister and a leader of his people. He opposed the Lombard invasion and successfully concluded a treaty with them. He saw Italy through great famine and epidemics of plague and other diseases. He compiled the Gregorian Sacramentary out of which many of our Collects are taken. The two (designated) great Bishops of Rome were Leo and Gregory. Both faced great dangers from both within and without Rome; therefore, I believe such persecution and danger engendered a greater faithfulness to the religion of Christ!
This COLLECT does not disdain punishment that we so rightly deserve, but to the pardon, redemption, and mercy made available in Christ our Lord. The ONLY thing that we truly DESERVE is justice! And if we receive the justice we deserve, we shall spend our eternities in Hell. “…we, who are justly punished for our offences.” In praying this Collect, we readily admit that we deserve punishment for our manifold sins. Though we have no water of our own, we may beg for it in a desert place. If given, it would be given out of mercy and not deserved in any sense. Mercy, not justice, is the thing we most need and desire. Justice becomes fulfilled in the blood of Christ once we have made appeal, through Him, for Mercy! The whole of man can be remedied by the simple mercy of God. Remember when Christ was passing along the road out of Jericho, two blind beggars hailed Him: And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him. And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David. And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David. (Matt 20:29-31) They sought only mercy first, and then received their sight.
To the devout Christian, divine punishment is justly deserved by all; but it is the grace of God whereby we are reconciled to God, forgiven, restored, and redeemed of our death sentence. We need never ask of God what we deserve for, without His grace, we all would receive the just deserts for our sin and transgressions. But it is His great mercy, a corollary of grace that restores us to a position of favor with God. If we may only receive God’s mercy, what more shall we need? He is All-Merciful and All-Forgiving. If we stand in His favor, even in the violent storms of life, need we fear any force of evil?
The Collect for Septuagesima Sunday is one of the few that conclude with a most glorious ending – “….through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end.” Of course it is a forceful reminder of the Trinity of the Godhead. If we discount either Person of the Godhead, we have no Godhead upon which to call – as the tree dimensions of height, depth, and width describe dimensions of a material object (and without one of which there would exist no mass) – so the Three Persons of the Godhead comprise the full defining character of God.
Do we realize how perfectly GOOD is the Lord Jesus Christ? In fact, the word ‘good’ derives from the Middle English word for God, for God is truly GOOD. For example, ‘Good Bye’ derives from the Middle English term of the 1500’s of godbwye – or God be with you! Amazing that the atheists use this term every day without knowing, isn’t it? Or that they, all around the world, acknowledge Christ’s birth in their calendar year of 2013 years from his birth.
Standing, as we do, in the period between His Glorious Coming (Christmas), and His great going through His death on the Cross (Calvary), we may be best disposed to simply seek that mercy for which He came to redeem us. We are thankful for His Coming, and thankful to the promise of Redemption at the end of Lent. It is summarized in this great Collect.
1 Corinthians ix. 24.
KNOW ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncer- tainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
THE EPISTLE: If the Christian is called of God to move a mountain, he must begin by placing an unrelenting shoulder to the stone. Not by his power, but by the power of God, the mountain will move. When God calls us to a thing, He will empower us to accomplish that thing. It is not the crown for which we strive, but the satisfaction of obeying God in all that He commands us.
THE HOLY GOSPEL
Matthew 20:1-16 (KJV)
Mt 1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 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? 7 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. 8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. 9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. 11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 12 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. 13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
Christ, being both the beginning and the end, has sole right to decide the reward of those who follow Him.
This parable has direct relevance to the preceding event in Matthew 19 – 16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
The Apostles did not understand this treatment of the rich young man. Jesus carefully explained that they would inherit eternal life, but He also closed the previous chapter with the words: 19:30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
There are a number of parallels to be drawn from other contextual references of the Bible to this principle of first/last, last/first.
Luke 15 – Parable of the prodigal son.
And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
The younger son (representing the gentiles)took his belongings and left the father and older brother and went into a far country where, after a time of carousing and living in finery, he lost all and was feeding the pigs.
After a time, he came to his senses and resolved to return to his father as a hired servant, but the father only lavished the boy with gifts and love and called him his son.
The older (representing the Jews) was of a sad and fallen countenance.
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
These, and many others we will not relate at this moment, serve to remind us that the Kingdom of Heaven is not organized along the lines of labor unions, or Coroprate Human Relations policies.
It tells us, first of all, that the gift of eternal life is not dependent on years of service or some principle of seniority.
Once accepted by Christ, we are accepted wholly and in full.
My wife used to remind me that some churches and Christians are like the chickens in the chicken coop – the moment a baby chicken finds an insect and tries to eat it, one of the older chickens rushes over and pecks the young chicken on the head so that he is unable to eat.
Some one new comes into the church with some excellent talent the Lord has given them, and oftentimes, the older members do all in their power to prevent that new person from sharing that talent the Lord has given.
That is a part of the meaning of the parable we study today of the Husbandman and the laborers.
The Husbandman is Christ – the laborers are those called to follow Christ.
Listen to the the explanation given by Bishop R.C. Trench, in his Notes on the Parables and Dean of Westminster Cathedral:
But for all this the question, “What shall we have?” was not a right one; it put their relation to their Lord on a wrong footing. There was a tendency in it to bring their obedience to a calculation of—so much work, so much reward. There lurked, too, a certain self-complacency in it. In this parable the Apostles are taught that, however long-continued their work, abundant their labours, yet without charity to their brethren, and humility before God, they are nothing; that pride and a self-complacent estimate of their work, like the fly in the precious ointment, would spoil the work, however great it might be, since that work stands only in humility, and from first they would fall to last. The lesson taught to Peter, and through him to us all, is that the first may be altogether last; that those who stand foremost as chief in labour, yet if they forget that the reward is of grace and not of works, and begin to boast and exalt themselves above their fellow-labourers, may altogether lose the things which they have wrought; while those who seem last may yet, by keeping their humility, be acknowledged first and foremost in the day of God.
Another point of this parable is related to the first we have made above.
The Hebrew people of Israel had been blessed with the favor of God in being an example and forerunner of the people of God. They had come to believe that God dealt only with them in goodness and blessing and no one else.
They considered that, if God were to welcome the gentiles into His plan of Salvation, that they must be less blessed than the Jews.
: 1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Therefore, the Jews are represented by the workers who were hired at the early hour of the morning.
The husbandman had offered them one penny (or denarius) a day for their labor. This was the customary daily wage for a laborer at the time of Christ.
Other laborers were hired at the noon day hour, and finally others during the last hour of the harvest.
. 3 And he went out about the third hour ( 9:00 AM), and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 5 Again he went out about the sixth(12 noon) and ninth hour(3:00 PM), and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour(5 PM)he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? 7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, thatshall ye receive.
The Jews believed they should receive preference above others who were called latter into the Kingdom, but that is not the way the Lord Jesus works.
When He healed the diseased, restored sight to the blind, healed leprosy, restored life to the dead …..He always healed COMPLETELY. Those who were healed were healed completely! He also treated the most serious disease first – SIN!
Example: Matthew 9: 2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? 5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? 6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. 7 And he arose, and departed to his house.
Christ is generous to the gentile and Jew alike. No one can claim preference in the eyes of God due to the time of their salvation.
Our reward shall be the Words uttered on that day when we come face-to-face with Christ our Lord: Matt 25:34 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: AMEN I hope I am on the right in life, spirit and politics on that day!