Yesterday I stood in the center aisle of my church, a crucifer standing before me and two torch bearers flanking me on either side, and I read the Gospel story of the workers in the vineyard. A landowner hires a group of workers early in the morning and agrees to pay them the “usual daily wage.” But all day long, the landowner keeps driving his pickup back to the town square where migrant workers queue up for work—any work—and hires people at 9:00, Noon, 3:00 and 5:00.
At the end of the day, all the workers line up before the paymaster, last to first. With glee the “first” workers—the 8 AM shift—notice that the last ones to show up are getting “the usual daily wage.” They’re already doing the multiplication in their heads. But when the “first” reach the paymaster, they are outraged to receive only “the usual daily wage.”
I read that Gospel and I wanted to laugh. As usual, of course, everyone in church is standing there serious, earnest, reverent. We had just read the ipsissima verba of Jesus, knocking the stilts out from under our meritocratic world, and there we are, pretending to hear some holy words which call us to furrow our brows and ponder their profound meaning. If we had “ears to hear” as Jesus says, we would either be screaming in outrage or laughing our asses off. Feeling like the former, I opt for the latter. To wit—
A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates.
St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”
“Okay,” the man says. He thinks for a moment. “I was married to the same woman for fifty years and never cheated on her, not even in my heart.”
“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!”
“Three points?” the man says.
“Well, I attended church all my life and I supported its ministry with my service and my tithe.”
“Terrific!” says St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.”
The man begins to panic, slightly. “I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”
“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points.”
“Two points?” Exasperated, the man cries, “At this rate the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God.”
“Bingo,” said St. Peter. “100 points. Come on in!”