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"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:1-16
Dear Friends,Good peripheral vision is a blessing and a curse. It makes us aware of our surroundings. It alerts us to the people in our lives – their strengths and weaknesses, their achievements and failings. When blessed by Christian charity, peripheral vision identifies others in need and helps direct our kindness. When tainted by pride, it triggers jealousy and ill will. The choice is ours.
The lesson of today’s gospel is to keep our eyes on the prize. The rewards of a life in Christ will be ours. God keeps his promises. Don’t be distracted by the good fortune or failings of others. The gospel instructs us not to measure and compare their merits to ours. But our egos cry out: “That’s not fair. I’m better. I did more.”
As a kid reading the gospel for the first time, this seemed like a very reasonable position. My young, galloping ego immediately identified with the good guys. They worked longer, they should get more. It’s only fair. I had to learn that salvation is not a merit badge. We do not earn it. It is a gift from God.
Today, I thank God that he is not governed by my adolescent notions of fairness. We do not judge God. He judges us. And thankfully he does not judge us by our self-centered standards of fairness; or else none would be saved. He sees us and knows us in intimate detail. He judges us with a forbearance and forgiveness bound by infinite love. Christ spreads a wide net to gather us in. But if you were the only one to be saved… or I was the only one to be saved…or someone in a remote corner of creation were the only one to be saved, Christ would do it all again. Salvation is not a class action event. Jesus is our own personal Savior. He did not come just to save the early birds or even the late arrivals. He comes for each of us-- one by one. He knows and loves each of us in our pride and foolishness, in our falls and resurrections. He does not weigh our worth against each other. Why should we?
Today I relate more to the latecomers than to the early risers. By the grace of God, I toil in his vineyard. I rejoice in the fellowship of my companions. I try to be aware and responsive. And I resist taking moral inventories and making comparisons. It is a destructive waste of God’s grace. In the words of the old spiritual, it is far better to: Keep your eyes on the prize. God’s love will put all else in perspective.
Faithfully yours in Christ’s love,
MAFA. The Late-arriving Workers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48296 [retrieved September 14, 2011].