Monday, September 19, 2011

Acing The Class

In the parable of the vineyard workers, heard this Sunday, we heard of the same reward being given regardless of the hours of labor. For most of us, this seems unfair. Now I got the rewards part of the parable (or think I did): heaven can be gained by everyone, whether a life-long Christian working hard, or a convert in the last minute of his life. And while perhaps not fair from an earthly point of view, the blessing of being offered this reward is just that: a blessing. And we all thank God for it. But that is looking at this parable from God’s gift point of view, but I think our concerns with the parable stem from our work and man’s point of view.

Another way of looking at the same situation might be to consider students taking a test. Some study for days on end, and get a 100% score on the test, while some others seem only to glance at the textbook and yet get the same 100% score. To the ones who studied so hard, it almost seems unfair – but they don’t think the teacher is the one being unfair. Jesus explained that the vineyard owner paying the same wage regardless of the hours worked IS being fair, in the eyes of God. The example of the students’ work perhaps makes it clearer for the eyes of man: we don’t see the teacher as being unfair in giving 100% to each student, regardless of their work to achieve the score. In fact, the 100% score is more greatly appreciated by the ones who worked harder to get it, is it not? Would you want it otherwise?

We are used to thinking of life, and our dealings with other people, in terms of barter. If you give me one, I’ll give you one --- assuming that each of the “ones” is the same. But in real life, barter considers other things. Sometimes the “ones” are not the same, so you must give me two of your less-valuable ones, and I’ll give you my one in return; the trade is of things equating to the same value. And sometimes things may appear to be the same, but someone has a greater desire for the trade than another: I really want your red one, so I’ll trade you two blue ones. The vineyard parable is from this viewpoint, that Jesus has a greater desire for us to get to heaven than perhaps we have a desire to get there --- there are so many distractions here on earth, so He offers us a “better deal” to make our trade.

I suspect members of some Protestant churches like the vineyard parable from a slightly different viewpoint. Payment guaranteed, a gift to all, once saved always saved. Eternal life (or a 100% test score) is available to all, and this is true. But what some may forget, or don’t notice in the parable, is that the vineyard workers (like the students) work, and continue to work to the end of the day. Not until midday, or one, or three o’clock, but to the end. If they walk away before the end, regardless of the hours worked, they will be skipping the payment at the end. Oh works do not in themselves justify the reward, it is a gift, but still the work is necessary to demonstrate the commitment to receiving the gift, and in effect testifying to its value.

Like Jesus notes, the payment is just --- but so is the work. No, the work (or works) don’t justify the payment, it is freely offered, but still the work must be done. (And it must be work in the vineyard owner’s field, not another’s field.) But let’s expand the examples a bit to illustrate another point about work. While the vineyard workers may get a daily wage, it is possible that a generous vineyard owner will offer a bonus when the entire field is picked, perhaps requiring several days or even weeks. The student may ace a particular test, but there will likely be more than one test in the course, and perhaps he has a goal of acing the class. He will have to take more tests. Do you see what will happen over the period of the entire course? The student who studied so hard to ace the first test will find that as he continues to work hard he will gain some of the knowledge (like holiness?) that the other student already has: the dumber student will become smarter. So that by the final exam, it is entirely possible that the “dumber” student will not have to spend nearly as much time to get the final 100% score. He has grown in wisdom during the course --- which was the whole point of the course! The same holds true with the vineyard worker, or us living our lives. Skills honed through practice, means you can do more with less; perhaps you can complete your allotted field area sooner and can help someone else with theirs, perhaps out of a desire to please the vineyard owner.

Every worker in the vineyard benefits from working to accomplish his assigned task, as does every student. They both work toward a known and desired reward, and their work helps them to achieve it. It is an earthly thing to want a reward, for ourselves; but it is a heavenly thing to want a reward solely to satisfy the vineyard owner or the teacher. Working for ourselves, it is receiving. Working for others, it is giving. And it is always more blessed to give than to receive. If you receive $10 for mowing your parents’ lawn, is it the same feeling as when you mow the neighbor’s lawn for the same wage?

And that is truly the lesson of growing in holiness, of working in the vineyard, that we so often miss. It is not only about what you gain, but why you do it. Whose vineyard do you think it is?

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