Grace and Peace to you from the mystery in whom we live and move, and have our being. Workers in the vineyard.
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”Matthew 20:1-16
Kingdom of Heaven
It is said the “Kingdom of Heaven” is another way of saying, “If God were in charge right now, how would we operate?” In the time of this parable, when the grapes were ripe, there was a small window to harvest before the heavy rains followed. Workers were needed. It was a desperate race to capture the grapes before the heavy rains were to come and ruin the harvest.
Because of the need for workers, it was an opportunity for those not connected to families as slaves or servants to get work. The slaves and servants knew that they were not going to starve. They had consistent work. Those who were not connected to a family waited in the marketplace in a public labor pool, if you will, to get work. Their families and children were at risk of starvation all the time.
In this parable, Jesus is saying the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, or the economy of God is such that no one will starve on his watch because they all received the same. The four pence, the normal pay for a day’s work was barely enough as it was. The times mentioned appear to correlate with the times of the Jewish day. (William Barclay, Studylight)
Economy of God
If we were to apply this understanding of God’s economy to our present situation, how might we live if God were in charge? I say ‘if’ because our kingdoms usually have us in charge. We might need to check our own inner morality cop when others take cuts. By the way, do you notice we get upset when the cuts are taken in front of us, but not behind us? We might have to let go of our “I deserve this” mentality.
In the kingdom of ambition, we want what we think we deserve. Isn’t it scary to ponder what would happen if we demanded from God what we think we deserve and we received it? What if God’s economy was like ours?
Would God grumble if we took cuts in front of him? Would God stand up in Congress, calling for the elimination of entitlements without giving up his own free life insurance and health care? Can we get a better deal than immortality? Hmm… I’m going to ask my broker!
We want the God created in our heads to bring retribution to others, rather than grace and mercy. After all, it’s what is fair. What if God passed by the Home Depot in a van to pick up all the undocumented workers, promising them work, but instead took them to immigration? Would he have created a work demand to end poverty, all the while supporting a meritocracy?
We are all receivers of grace and mercy
We say we only want what is fair. The economy of people says, “I got mine, screw you.” The economy of God says, “We are all receivers of grace and mercy.”
There is power in being the giver that looks a lot like humility. Yet below the surface, you take pride in working overtime to not be a receiver.
I heard of a therapist whose client was known as a generous giver.
The therapist asked her, “Is there a contingent of perpetual, good-hearted givers?” We lined them up.
“Where would you place yourself?”
Humbly she said, “I think around the middle.”
He said, “So, assume everybody’s job is to give to those behind them. What would be the job of the last person in line?”
She appeared stumped for a while and then said, “To receive?”
Freedom comes from gratitude
There is no one for the last one in line to give to. That person’s job, in that moment and time, is to be a recipient. Being a recipient renders us powerless, but it is the greatest source of freedom and intimacy because its freedom comes from gratitude, vulnerability and a willingness to receive without apology, and with no justification. That would be the refashioning of “I worked all day so I deserve to be the recipient.”
There’s a lot more that can be said to be in the position of the receiver. It takes us out of our puritanistic purpose for living. Instead, it makes our purpose to be the recipient of all of God’s love with no expectations. Outside of the economy of God, we might say. There has to be some responsibilities for this kind of love. You see, God is not against effort. God is against earning, so his love comes without expectations. We are compelled to do good things to show grace and to offer mercy because of the undeserved love we’ve been given. I encourage you to do that work until you fall backward into the deep refreshing waters of unconditional love.
In the kingdom of heaven, it may not be fair, but is it right?
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Henry Rojas, spiritual director at Spirit in the Desert.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.