God: The Workers’ Wages

Now on to this one, and back to my real topic of conversation — the meaning of life and the path to Salvation. Well…okay, when I put it like that, the last article works really well too….

How about this: the difference between the Path to Salvation as we learned it from Church, and the one Jesus recommends. I was spinning the last story — this one directly argues my case.

Because, before we get to it, let me say: Jesus is talking to the Pharisees here. He’s not talking about the reality of Salvation, he’s talking about Salvation as the Pharisees see it. Salvation is toil, it’s painful soul-searing sacrifice to gain an eternal reward (or, more likely, to avoid an eternal punishment). THAT’s not the Salvation Jesus offers, at any point, but that’s what he’s using in the metaphor of this parable. You have to understand, though, that here he is coming to them on their terms, not on his own.

That said, let’s get to it:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

” ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“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 the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
There’s the passage. More of “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” More striking than that, though, is the consistency of the single payment: one denarius. And that’s what the landowner claimed was “whatever is right.”

The laborers who worked all day came to the master complaining that the payment wasn’t just. I can tell you this (as I’ve told you already) we don’t want justice. It’s a silly thing to ask for. NONE of us have done, or will do, in our one day NEARLY enough work to justify the payment that he’s offering.

Furthermore…there’s only one payment. There’s one reward. It’s one reward, or it’s nothing. That’s the nature of Infinity. You can’t HAVE more or less of Infinity. God couldn’t give some of us MORE Infinite Perfect Happiness than he gave others….

That’s not the nature of Salvation. That’s not the nature of eternity. Anyone who gets paid, gets paid in full. And it’s by Grace that each and every one of us gets paid.

I love that the master keeps returning to the market to find more people to work for him. There’s a constant call, and that’s encouraging. I like that, when he finds people not working, he seems incredulous, but immediately invites them to work for him. Most of all, I like the absolutely clear message:

Everyone is invited. Everyone receives their reward out of the master’s generosity, not fair compensation. And Salvation is once-for-all…at the end of the day.

If I wanted to, I could write up a totally tangential sermon on that fact. Those who stayed until the end of the day got paid, no matter WHEN they started. But someone who worked from sunup to late afternoon and gave up and went away wouldna been there when the time came. I don’t buy into it, though, and I think that’s why Jesus made no mention. The metaphor of laboring through the day for payment at night isn’t Jesus’ idea of Salvation — it’s the Pharisees’. Jesus’ point was the master’s incredulity — it is his to reward as he chooses, and he freely does. That’s the bit we need to hang onto.

And hope, so much hope, because the end of the day isn’t on us yet, and if we’re not working toward Infinity, we’ve got time to get to it yet.