Believe and Obey

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Mercy for Me, Justice for the Other Guy

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Working for the Man

This week’s text is Matthew 20: 1-16.  This is the tale of the workers in the vineyard.  Some work all day, some only an hour.  Yet, they all receive the same pay-that of a full day’s work.  This of course angers those that worked all day, and they complain rather loudly about it.  None of us are too far removed from this kind of scenario in our daily lives.  I mean, have we not seen this dynamic play out in the workplace?  We have either done the complaining or seen it happen, “why does so and so get to leave early?  Why do they get to take on the high visibility project-they’re new here anyway?”  And on and on it goes.  Jesus gets this, and us.

The Earthly and the More Important Eternal Lesson

As is often the case in Scripture, there is an eternal eschatological lesson and an earthly, human lesson.  This befits a Jesus who is both God and man.  It is tempting to look only at the earthly lesson and talk about freedom of contract.  After all, the all-day workers did come to terms with the boss.  It should not matter to them that other workers cut a different deal.  I will avoid the temptation to comment more on this and turn to the eternal lesson.

The refrain from those who complain about the spiritual aspect of this is “I have been a church member all my life and done the ministry of God for decades, why should some ‘Johnny-come-lately’ inherit the kingdom that I deserve”.  There is much disturbing about this all-too-common refrain.

First, it smacks of works righteousness, the hoary notion that we can earn our way into salvation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is nothing we could ever offer God to justify our way into His Kingdom.  The good news is we don’t have to.  God gives us His Kingdom freely.  So generous is God with this Kingdom that He offers it to anyone, anytime.  Yes, this means even “Johnny-come-latelys”.  Thinking we have done something to deserve God’s Grace turns reality on its head.  We do the work of ministry because God has given us His gift.  The “unfairness” of any of this is that God even bothers with us at all.

Second, there is the problem of hypocrisy.  Not exactly a new problem for humanity.  We always want justice for the other guy and mercy for ourselves.  If we were one of the ones who came late (and when have we not been in a similar situation), then we want God’s generous mercy.  When we are on the other side of the line, we want God to deliver justice. 

The reality of this world is that we are all most deserving of God’s harsh justice.  The Good News is that instead of harsh justice, God offers everyone His mercy.  This offer is ongoing.  So, no matter when you accept God’s gift of Grace upon Grace, you are welcomed into an eternal relationship with our Father in Heaven through His Son Jesus the Christ. 

Keeping in mind the awesomeness of God’s gift to us should render unimportant how long someone else has been a member of the fellowship of Christ.  Ours is simply to trust that God’s word is true.  That is to simply believe.  Then, for as long as you can, go out into the vineyard and obey.

Praise Be to God

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