Early Birds and the Economy of God

Sometimes I think the hardest part of Christianity is letting God be God.

I always think there is a better way, a painless way, an easy way. I can’t speak for you, I guess, but I am after a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. Or to put it more clearly, I want a life of glory and praise rather than a life of discipleship and faith. And the worst part is that I think I deserve it.

After all, haven’t I devoted my whole life to the ministry of the gospel? Didn’t I spend 8 years in school when my friends were making money and starting families? Haven’t I sacrificed a resume of worldly success for a resume of spiritual success? Am I not owed a little extra from a God who prides himself on justice?

No, no I am not.

And day by day I am surprised that a Being powerful enough to speak the world into existence and loving enough to enter into the reality we shattered gives me more time to figure it out. Of all the evils perpetuated by the sons of Adam, the greatest has to be our assumption that we are owed good from the hand of God. We are not.

Just this morning I was reading Jesus’ story of the ungrateful laborers. In this story, a land-owner goes out early in the morning and hires day-laborers at a fair price. Then at noon, he hires a fresh batch of workers, and the same at 4:30. When 5 rolls around, the land-owner begins to hand out paychecks.

As the early morning workers stand in the back of the line, they see their boss handing out the whole day’s wage to the noon workers. He does the same with the 4:30 guys. An entire day’s wage for a half an hour of work? They have to be expecting a bonus, right? Wouldn’t you?

But as the tired, expectant early birds get their share they realize, to their disapproval, no bonus. No percentage increase. No union-forced raise. Just a day’s wage. Fair? Well, yes and no. Yes, they had agreed to work that day for only a day’s wage, but come on! How can you say that working ten hours in a field is equal to working a half-hour? And as a side-note, you know it had to take the 4:30 workers at least ten or fifteen minutes to get their bearings. Now you’re talking about 15 minutes of hard work! Equal to ten hours? No way!

And as Jesus told this story, just before he entered Jerusalem to be killed, his disciples could feel the weight of a God who was willing to compare himself to the land-owner. The wages of God are anything but fair. Billy Graham is no better off in the kingdom of heaven than a murderer after his deathbed confession. Such is the economy of God.

There are some of us who are blessed, beyond what we can get our pouting little heads around, to live our whole lives in the shadow of the cross. Some only get a moment of discipleship, of nearness to Christ, of opportunity to share his name, of a chance to suffer with him. Others of us, the lucky ones, get our whole lives to work in his fields, then the feast, the marriage, and the kingdom of new life. Early birds like us have it made.

God will be God. He will reward 4:30 workers just the same as the rest of us. He will make the rain fall on the just and the unjust. Bad people will have good jobs and good people will have bad jobs, but that’s just God being God. Bad people will coast and good people will suffer, but that’s just God being God. Life rarely makes sense or goes the way we think it ought, but that’s just God being God.

And that’s good news for the early birds, just the same as it is for the 4:30 arrivals.

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