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!”
pam anderson says
This gospel reading and the the one about the prodigal son really confound me. I’m no saint, but I’m quite responsible and I prefer life fair. Not so here. Got a ways to go before enlightenment!
Meg Hovell says
Pam – I’m with you. Never got it / still don’t. Add the Martha / Mary one also. Since life isn’t fair, for some reason I expect religion to at least try to be.
Karen Dewar says
Pam, I agree with you. There’s no way the late workers should have gotten a full day’s pay. BUT, after thinking about it, it seems to me that the landowner’s doing this is the difference between justice and mercy. I, too, have a long way to go.
I agree with Pam. I’m all about fairness. But why would I continue to stick with this belief, when all around me, every day, there are examples that life isn’t fair? It wasn’t back in the time of Jesus, and it isn’t now. When will I ever learn?
Arden Broecking says
Heaven’s point system is still the best, especially when some of the other kinds of “rewards” we see result in addictions, arrests, long prison terms, broken homes, broken hearts and shattered lives,even early death. As you say so often, God’s grace opens all kinds of doors, and “rewards” us every day, it’s just that sometimes we don’t fully understand or have the ability to accept them.
Your sermons always give me something to ponder. In my profession (esoteric show-biz) I too wonder, like the early workers,why today some of the current athletes and “stars” whose vulgar blaring we’re subjected relentlessly to on the media are rewarded as they are, while others with far more talent struggle. Life isn’t fair, BUT if we understand that, and with faith and hope make the best of what we have, the rewards may more than we expect, and will not include drug arrests,jail, broken lives and early death. Severe “rewardss” indeed.