Tammy and I have a precious Dachshund named Penny. She is a lovely dog, and truly one of God’s great gifts to us. But, one of the things you learn quickly about Penny is, she has very definite opinions about what is hers, and what she deserves. She lives her life by a simple ethos: “I want it, so I deserve it,” or more simply, “I want it, so it’s mine.”
I think we get caught up in this same kind of thinking. “I want what’s mine.” “I want what’s coming to me.” “I want what I deserve.”
We see this line of thinking today in our Gospel reading. Several different groups of workers are called to the vineyard. The first comes early in the morning, works through the heat of the day for 8 or 9 hours, and truly puts in a day’s work. The last group is called in the evening, and works only a couple of hours in the cooler part of the day. But, when the master calls them, they all receive the same pay.
Those who worked longest naturally gripe about this arrangement. “We worked the longest, so we deserve more.” “We were here first, so we deserve the lion’s share.” And so on. I think, if we’re honest, we can hear ourselves in these workers’ words. And nowhere does this “I am first/better/harder working and I deserve more” mentality irk some Christians more, in no way does it mystify non-Christians and Christians more, than in the application of God’s grace at the cross.
At the cross, Christ poured out grace for all humanity. It wasn’t poured out only for Jews, or for Gentiles. It wasn’t just for the righteous, or the rich, or those who were pleasing and desirable in the market. It was poured out equally, freely and for all — for saint and sinner, poor and rich, powerful and marginalized.
And in the light of that grace, it is impossible for us to be unequal in the eyes of God. Our actions — our actions — may be better or worse from one day, or minute, to the next, and we each, individually, will make account for our actions in this life before the judgment seat of a just and merciful Lord.
But WHO WE ARE, as children of God, cannot be more or less than our brother or sister. Nothing, absolutely nothing, of this world can make you more or less valuable than your brother or sister in the eyes of God. Hear that again — the poorest beggar in the street is worth every bit as much in the eyes of God as the richest merchant; the weakest and most helpless are worth every bit as much as the rich and powerful; the forgotten are never forgotten in the eyes of God, and they will be exalted at His throne.
Now, this is hard for our society to understand, let alone embrace. How could the poor be worth as much as the rich, in a society that measures all by bank accounts? In the mind of this world, this makes no sense. But, the prophet Isaiah reminds us the mind of the Kingdom of God is not the mind of this world:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
God knows our worth. God knows your worth. And, Christ tells us the poor and the forgotten are not only worth the same as the rich and powerful in the eyes of God, but are first and foremost in the mind of God, for He tells us “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
When we elevate our thoughts to focus not on the ways of this world, which judges us based on wealth, titles and possessions, but rather on the Kingdom of God, in which we all are equal in God’s eyes, we reach a place in which we can join St. Paul in clinging to nothing of this world — not even life itself.
“Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death,” St. Paul reminds us, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. “…I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”
When we see ourselves not with the eyes of this world, but with the eyes of Christ — Christ within ourselves, Christ within our neighbor — we will stop dividing ourselves based on fear, greed and self-interest, and begin to see ourselves the lens of the grace Christ poured out at the cross, we will begin to lift up all our sisters and brothers in the love, dignity and compassion Christ intends for us all.
Let us pray.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.