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Ben Fleming: What Does Love Require? Matthew 20:1-34

March 18, 2024

Audio Recording

Jesus’s parables illuminate justice & grace in the kingdom of God, redefining our understanding of fairness and generosity. When we experience God’s love, we can embrace a heart of service, seek spiritual wholeness, and prioritize loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Ben Fleming: What Does Love Require? Matthew 20:1-34

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us. Matthew, chapter 20 is where we're at. We're going to go through the final one of the, one of the final parables. If you read through 20 through 22. And Jesus continues to speak in parables, which, if you're unfamiliar with the word, that's, that's what rabbis would use. They're essentially stories that rabbis and teachers would use and order to communicate a larger moral idea or to teach something that exists even outside of just simply that story, trying to communicate in a way that sticks. Right. It's a sticky kind of story that helps us learn. And Jesus is using these parables. There's a few more after this. If you're going to jump in and read something all by yourself that we're not going to touch here from the platform, read as many of the parables in Matthew as you can, really challenging and interesting and difficult and inspiring. So go ahead and find as many of those as you can. But we're going to touch on one of the final ones. And this is called the parable, the workers in the vineyard, or the parable of the vineyard.

And the reason that Jesus has continued.

To speak in this way is so that all of us can learn something. But most of the time, these environments, the context that he's in is that he's speaking specifically to religious people or to religious insiders, we could say for today, because Jesus's concern is that as he brings this new kingdom in, as the Messiah, something that so many people have been waiting generations and generations and generations for, many of the religious people are beginning to understand that this kingdom is bigger than just the religious insiders. And I think in theory, for many of these people, that's a beautiful thing. But they want to know that they've grabbed onto and still continue to hold this higher place in the hierarchy of religious people over those who are newcomers. And Jesus is worried or considering that many people just trying to hold onto their position in their culture, that as they do that, they'll miss out on the thing that God's actually trying to do in the form of the kingdom of God. And so he starts this parable like many, many others, and he says, for the kingdom of heaven is like this. It's like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a daenerys, or, which is really commonly just a day's wage at that time for the day, and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning, he went out and he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. And he told them, you also go and work in my vineyard and I'll pay you whatever is right. And so they went. He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. And about five in the afternoon, he went out again and found still others standing around. And he asked them, why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing? Well, because no one has hired us, they answered. He said to them, you go and work in my vineyard. And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. The workers who were hired, about five in the afternoon, came and each received a daenerys. And when those who came, who were hired first, they expected to receive more. Now, this is just like all of us, I imagine, standing in that line, and they are watching the guys that have shown up, and they have worked for 15 minutes. They have barely clocked in, and they're.

Going, they're getting a full day's wage. This is awesome. Imagine what we're going to get. We worked 20 times as much as they did, and now we're going to get paid. Let's see what happens at the front of the line, it says, but each one of them also received a daenerys the day's wage.

And when they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. Those who were hired last worked only 1 hour. And they said, but you've made them equal to us who have borne the.

Burden and the work and the heat of the day. You owe us. We're the real workers and they're not.

Says, but he answered to one of them, I'm not being unfair to you, friend. Didn't you agree to this to work for a daenerys?

Go take your pay.

I want to give the one who has hired the last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? And I love this line. Check this out. Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last. Jesus is trying to help people understand that this kingdom of God, this kingdom of heaven, this new kingdom that Jesus himself is ushering in, involves justice and grace. And he is also redefining both of those terms. For the people listening, you have heard the terms justice and grace, and I want you to know that my understanding and my participation with these terms is far beyond what you could possibly imagine.

Because we've all imagined it, right?

We all have our own gauges for justice and grace, and we like to go ahead and move the bars on those all the time to suit our needs. Now, this is most clearly evidenced in me, in my experience in traffic. I live off of Cooley Road, which doesn't exist anymore. If any of you have driven out to the north side of town, it's mad Max out there, man. We're going to go to target strap up. And I can't get out on a 97. It used to be so easy. And now every morning I'm like, I should try a new way to get around this. And by the way, I think it's really cool all the different shifting and changing that's going on in our city. Maybe it's a small town kid in me that whenever something went wrong or there was potholes, everyone just kind of looked around and was like, well, I guess it'll be this way forever.

Just go around it.

And so, especially if you work construction or you work with the city or an engineer, planner or anything like that, I know your job is so stressful. And people, everything from a detour running past their house to the inconvenience of trying to get to work, it's a stressful, stressful thing. So we're thankful. We're super thankful for you. But also, it took me 40 minutes the other day to get to my house to hear, and that was partially my fault. But I have an idea of justice, right?

And when somebody cuts me off or somebody treats me poorly in that traffic or they go faster than I believe that they should. Now, it depends on what I'm doing that day, if what I'm doing is very important and I'm maybe a little bit late, I think the parkway should be a 65 miles per hour speed limit. Come on, you guys, this is easy. We should be able to drive this. I know that Hawthorne and these little exits make it incredibly dangerous to drive 65 mph, but today I need this limit. And the other days I'm not really in that much of a hurry. And it's kind of a nice day. And somebody speeds past me going 60 miles an hour and I'm like, excuse me, it is a 45 miles per hour limit. It is clearly marked. Lord Jesus, I just pray just for.

The safety of all of us, for a police officer to be, not just to hurt, to take them down, but to create safety for the rest of us. Idea of justice shifts and changes. And the other day, somebody cut me off, and I did this thing that maybe you have done as well, that somehow, because of the flow of traffic, I caught up to them after they cut me off and sped forward, and then I got alongside them. Yeah. And I was like, I got to see what kind of a person.

You do this.

I don't know why we do this. I want to know who would do that. Then I did the same thing to.

Somebody the other day.

I kind of cut them off in the middle of all this construction.

I'm like, look, it's stressful out here. Cut me some slack. It's an election year. We're all dealing with a lot. And then that guy got up next.

To me, and I was like, well, we could really use some grace right now. And it kind of shifts and changes and moves based on our mood, our idea. And these people who are religious insiders who have spent so much time memorizing the Torah, participating in the traditions of the religion, going to the synagogue, they have long had something over the Samaritans and the Gentiles of the area that were considered lesser than. And this creates a nice feeling for those of us maybe in the room who might be religious insiders, that we have something. We have a tradition. We've been participating this. We would use the word really faithful. And sometimes that comes along with this idea that we deserve something more than other people who have arrived later to the game or haven't experienced what we've experienced. And Jesus is saying, I want you to understand this idea of justice and grace. And I want you to understand that my relationship to those words is different than yours. And my justice is generosity, and my grace is for everyone.

And a church.

That would discover this truly in our hearts. And it takes work and time and great difficulty, because, again, we like to move the goalposts, the bar around a little bit for our own uses. Jesus is saying, come and understand my grace and my justice, and then you will understand my kingdom. Now, what's interesting is, if you go further in Matthew, chapter 20, I don't know exactly how close these events happen, but how they're written in Matthew makes it really funny. Jesus just gives them this entire parable and story about how you're trying to put yourself above someone else and create this hierarchy. And then James and John's mother shows.


Which, I just want to see this in real life. What are James and John doing when their mom goes up to Jesus and is about to make a request? Are they, like, standing behind her what's she going to say?

I don't know.

It says, the mother of Zebedee's children in verse 20. James and John came to Jesus for their sons. She got down on her knees before Jesus to ask something of him, and he said to her, what do you want? And she said, say that my two sons may sit. Now, real quick. I want to go back and look at that real quick. Jesus says, what do you want? Hold on to that little piece of scripture. She said, say that my sons may sit one at your right side and one of your left side when you're king. And Jesus said to her, you do not know that you are asking what you are asking. Are you able to take the suffering that I am about to take? And are you able to be baptized with the baptism that I'm baptized with? And they said, yes, we're able. And he said to them, you will.

Suffer as I will suffer, but the.

Places at my right hand side and at my left hand side are not mine to give. Whoever my father says will have those places. Then in verse 24, the other ten followers heard this, and they were angry with the two brothers.

What are you doing? You're trying to get one over on us. We love belonging to this close knit discipleship group of Jesus, and you're trying to even grab a couple seats above us. Says Jesus called all them to him. And he said, you know how the kings of the nation show their power to the people? Important leaders use their power over the people. But it must not be this way with you.

Holy cow. That doesn't say that in the scripture.

My kingdom, again, he's trying to define.

This kingdom for them.

My kingdom is not the one that you've come accustomed with. It's not based on the blood order of things. As far as who's the kings and the queens and the princes and the princess. And you don't use power that I give you in the way that everyone else would use it. It's not the same deal. But instead it says, whoever wants to be great among you, let him care for you. Whoever wants to be first, let him be your servant.

For the Son of man came not to be cared for. He came to care for others. He came to give his life so that many could be bought by his blood and made free from the punishment of sin. Now, immediately after, and we'll go into this in verse 29, is a contrasting story of what we just went through with the disciples, says as they went away from the city of Jericho, many people followed Jesus and two blind men were sitting by the side of the road, and they called out when they heard that Jesus was going by. And they said, lord, take pity on us, son of David. And many people spoke sharp words to them. They told the blind men not to call out, but they called out all the more, Lord, take pity on us, son of David. And Jesus stopped. He called them and he asked, what do you want me to do for you now remember James and John's mom? Jesus said, what do you want? And she said, we would like a position with more power in your kingdom when the time comes. And now these blind men are on the scene, and Jesus says, what do you want? And it says, the blind men said to Jesus, lord, we just want our eyes opened. That's it. Jesus had loving pity on them. And he put his hands on their eyes at once. They could see, and they followed Jesus. You see, Jesus is looking at the disciples and the religious people and he's saying, you want to play a game? You want to decide not only who is the twelve that is walking around and following with me at every moment of every day, but now you want to decide who's number one, who's number two, who's number three. What a waste of time. Meanwhile, these blind men, who everyone is actually trying to silence, they're trying to shut them up. They know what they seek, and they ask for the good thing that I will give. And they find themselves blessed, receiving what they have asked for. Not again, because they've earned it, but instead because they know what we're after in this faith, somehow, they know what we're after. When it comes to following after the way of Jesus, it is a blessing. And it's a blessing that isn't confirmed by a certain amount of status or money or success. It's a blessing that's confirmed by lives of people that have now been made whole when they were previously broken and incomplete. The blind men seek wholeness, not victory.

This is a tough lesson because we're geared for a certain kind of way of living.

We're geared for a certain way of.

Understanding when we've reached the top and.

The pinnacle of something and when we haven't.


I love the Jim Carrey quote that says, I wish everyone got rich and famous, because then they would understand that none of that actually fulfills anything. I wish you could have all the success. I wish you could think of this as the biggest blessing in the world and understand that these are not the things that make you whole. Instead, it's the people who, in their brokenness and hurt. Understand that when they cry out, they ask simply for wholeness that Jesus is actually the one that is meant to give that to us.

Now, if you've come in here today and you're seeking after something that we.

Say in church circles a lot of times is the will of God, right? And when I work with youth and young adults, this is a big question. I just want to know what God's will is for me. I want to know what the next step is. I want to know what the whatever is. And they're trying to make life decisions about where should I go live? Can I find a spouse? How do I find a spouse? I really, really want a spouse. Can I have a spouse now, please? I insist on a spouse and what.

City I'm going to live in. And I got to make the right decision about picking the right major at the right time, and I got to go live in the right place. And I think sometimes in the christian community, we're like, yeah, you got to pray about it because you need to pick that right major and you need to go the right way, and you'll know if you've found the right person, you've got the right job, and you've got the right amount of money, and everything's taken care of, you'll know that.

You made the right decision.

I got to be honest with you guys today. I don't think Jesus cares that much about that. He's got rich religious people. He's got successful people. He's got people that have followed along the tradition. And, you know, who understood what Jesus was after better than the disciples at the moment? The blind people on the side of the road who had never met him before, who simply wanted to see. What do you want today? What do you really want? Do you want success? Do you want ease? Do you want rest? I believe that all these things exist within the realm of the kingdom of God, too, but these are just kind of byproducts of little decisions that we make. The thing that Jesus is after is not after you having the right job and the right spouse in the perfect moment. The blood ever. Jesus is after your heart, seeking after wholeness. It's far greater than all these little things that we consider to be the absolute measure of success and a good life lived. Instead, it's a people not that find everything that they want in an earthly way, but simply people that seek after the spiritual thing, the wholeness, the eyes.

To see that Jesus is looking after today.

That's the church Jesus is looking for. That means you can be rich, you can be poor, you can be married, you can be single. You can be divorced. You can be hurting. You can be elated. All Jesus is looking for from all.

Those kinds of people is a heart that simply wants to seek after him in his way.

So what do you want? Power and position, or do you want to see?

And Jesus gives us what I believe is something that kind of unlocks all of these parables. This is the key. And it comes in the form of what is known in your scripture and kind of even in popular culture as the greatest commandment. Where Jesus sums up the Ten Commandments in his kingdom, all in a short phrase. And it says this in Matthew 22, verses 34 through 40. He says, having that Jesus. Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. And one of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question. Teacher, what's the greatest commandment in the law? And Jesus replied, you love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. So they hear the stories. They hear the teachings, the difficult ones, the beautiful ones. And if they're anything like me, I'm coming to this point just like them. And I'm going, look, you just need to tell me what to do. Now, I'm having a hard time interpreting all this. Give me marching orders. And it's great, because we really attach ourselves to this in a way that I think is incomplete. So Jesus turns around, he says, you got to love God. Okay? I can do that. I can figure out how to do that. And we do that well. That's part of what this gathering on Sundays is, right? We emphasize the importance of loving God completely and wholeheartedly. We come, and we sing, and we worship together, and we pray together. We heap adoration on God in this place together. That is a beautiful, wonderful thing. And it requires the totality of our being, all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. It's all of our devotion. It transcends just an emotional experience. But we choose with our words and with our deeds to love God in this place. And that's beautiful. And then we go on to the next marching order. Love your neighbors yourself, okay? Great. Neighbors are not as perfect as God.

This is harder.

But I can try. And I think I can quantify this, right? I can tip well. I can shovel somebody's driveway. I can extend a loving and kind word of encouragement at a certain amount of time. It's loving my neighbor. Well, it extends beyond our immediate circle to include everyone, especially as the church. The world now becomes our neighbor. And it doesn't matter what their background or their belief is. We're not called to love everyone only when it feels good or feels right or gets us a result that we want. But instead the command is to simply love wholeheartedly. But here's the piece I think we miss. Love God all your heart, soul, mind, strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. Now, if you kind of go in and out of what I'm about to say over the next 30 minutes, just kidding. This could come off as almost like some kind of a form of humanism. But I want to explain myself and that this really fits into the kingdom of God squarely. Our understanding and our love and our care and our value of ourselves is how we love people and we love God wholeheartedly. A whole love coming from someone requires wholeness. It requires wholeness. And I think just like anything, a lot of us are fixers and we're doers. That's kind of the culture that we live in. A lot of good comes from it. But we hear the greatest commandment that Jesus gives us and we go, okay, I'm going to go out. I'm going to create some spiritual disciplines in solitude. I'm going to praise the name of God. I'm going to be unified. I'm going to attend church. I'm going to develop and create community, and I'm going to love people. I'm going to be patient. I'm going to be kind with everyone that I come into contact to. And this is what I'm going to do. This is the plan. This is how I'm going to make it work. And that's great and that's beautiful and it's incomplete. If we don't understand how much God loves us and we do this at church, we go, well, I'm just hurt and I'm broken, I'm messed up and I'm stupid and I've made so many mistakes. So I'm going to love God. I'm going to love people as best I can almost in an effort to gloss over the being that is ourselves instead of allowing the really deep healing that the blind men received. A wholeness of our own body and our own spirit and our own selves coming underneath the mantle of value that Jesus has created for us and not the one that we create God wants to give us a new day. And it doesn't come from just this striving of loving God and loving people. It comes from first receiving that love that God has so richly poured out on us.

You know how good it is when someone receives a gift from you and they just love that thing? I got a nine year old and a seven year old, and my daughter had a birthday a little while ago.

Somebody dropped off a birthday present, like, two months late just the other night, and it was a science kit. And I'm seeing this thing on the front door, and I'm like, oh, Lord Jesus, this looks like homework for me. I'm going to have to clean it up. And my daughter's like, yeah, dad.

It says 45 experiments in one box. Start at one. Let's go. Okay.

And she's like, hugging the box. I'm like, oh, see, this is why I love giving you gifts. And my son, we got him a stuffed dog when he was two years old. He named it Spotty, got it at Christmas. And this dog and my son, he's nine now. He's still holding this thing at night, and we accidentally left it behind on one of our trips recently, one of our family members went into his room and was like, he left spotty.

Is everyone okay? He just loves that thing.

It's with him.

It's part of who he is.

We've mailed that thing from other places because we left it somewhere. We bought another one off of Amazon.

At quadruple the price. We told him, well, it's not a new spotty.

It's the same one, just cleaner. And he holds. He grabs that thing. He loves that thing so much. And sometimes I feel like in this faith thing, God is giving us this gift of a new value, a new way to view ourselves. Gosh, when we do this silly thing as Christian, we go, well, you know, just a work in progress. I'm just broken. I'm hurting just like anybody else, but.

I'm trying my darndest. Maybe someday I'll figure it out. And, yes, you're broken and you're hurting, and you are a work in progress. But if I come to my son and I say, I love you, and he says, yeah, well, you know, trying real hard, and be like, hey, shut up. Come here. I'm going to hug you, and I'm going to squeak. I love you. I don't care what happens, what great decisions you make, or what wrong decisions you make. You're my son. Well, what does that really mean? It means everything. And I want my children because of the love that they experience from their father and mother. Because they know that they are Flemings and what that means. And they know that I'm there for them and I would never leave them or forsake them. No matter what decision, no matter what problem, I'm going to be by their side. I'm going to be their dad forever. And our heavenly father does the same thing for us. And we run around trying to do this work while I'm trying to love God and love people. And God is saying, I need you to get this first, that your value is all the way up to the heavens. Why? Because you've made all the right decisions? No, because you're mine. You're my son. You're my daughter. I gave my life for you in salvation. And as we go, and we love our neighbors and we love God, it has to come from this incredible confidence.

In knowing whose we are. Everything in the greatest commandment starts from that place. So do you know today that you are loved? Not just a work in progress, not just a problem right now, not just somebody that's trying to deal with this and trying to fake it till I make it. You're loved because you're a son and you're a daughter. You are inseparable from God. If you're in the room and you're saying, I need to connect for the first time or reconnect with that value of who I am, I don't walk like a son or a daughter of the creator of the universe. I don't speak like that. I don't think of myself like that. And I want to start doing that today. I want to make a decision, to be regularly reminded and walk in confidence and with spirit, knowing that God loves me, he chose me and I belong to him.

If that's you, you want to reframe.

Your thinking around yourself today, I want you to take a step and raise your hand in three, two, one, go. If that's you. Yeah. Come on, you. Put them up. Put them down. We're going to pray for you here in just a moment. Well, Father God, we thank you for those who just raised their hand that took the boldness to say, I need a reframing, I need a rework. It can sound so selfish in places like these. It can sound so self serving.

But God, you love us.

And we want to love holy you and our neighbors because of that love and that value that you've bestowed on us. So I pray that we would hold that close, that we would believe that with all that we are.

That we would walk in confidence as people that simply want to see things how you see them.