We’ve been exploring how our dualistic distinctions have created religious systems by which we score other people and determine if we think they are valid or not. It’s part of our human propensity because this is how we learn about the world as a child, it’s how most of us came to understand God and his/her sense of justice.
Jesus tells a parable in Matthew chapter 20 about workers in the vineyard. It’s a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. The story tells of a master who starts the day hiring laborers who agree to work in his vineyard for a day’s wages. Every couple of hours, the master goes out and hires more for the agreed wages until the very last hour of work. At the end of the day, the master lines all the workers up and gives them their pay starting with those hired last.
When those first hired realized they were getting the same as those last hired, they get mad at the master of the vineyard. Why, because they are looking at this as unfair. Thus this story is about injustice. As a metaphor for heaven, it tells us about the justice of heaven, and its not what most of us were taught.
The justice system of God is not based upon the work of the individual, but on the generosity of the master. Each person agrees to the terms. Each person accepts the labor to be done, each is required to do their work, but its not a meritocracy.
Those who had labored the most became trapped in their distinctions. They forgot that they were jobless and broke prior to the masters offer. Inequality only emerges when viewing this from the bottom up. From the top down, all comers were generously made whole with a days wages. Those who came last were closest in proximity to the weight of this generosity. Those who came first were farthest in proximity. The story ends with these familiar words: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
It doesn’t say the last won’t receive generosity. It also doesn’t say the first will get more. Justice based on restoration closes the gaps for all people, both near and far, and completes each one. Justice based on retribution always has winners and losers. Restoration realizes that winners are as far away as losers, and generosity (grace) is the ultimate equalizer.
The application couldn’t be more clear. However, much of religion desperately clings onto an angry God who is full of retribution, making our life one of appeasement. Most Christians and Muslims today believe that God is primarily mad at people and is therefore sending the majority of human history to Hell. Is that what you believe? Deep down, do you feel that God would be unjust if he restored everyone to wholeness? If so, your belief is like that of the first hired and it begrudges the generosity of God. Do you now see the sliding scale? If you think you will go to heaven before others, then you are further in proximity to the kingdom and its system of restorative justice.
So what about Hell? What about sin? This is kind of a big pill to swallow if we have spent our lives in a win/lose paradigm. Do we just throw all distinctions out the window? Absolutely not. I’d like to invite you back next week for the conclusion of this series. The story continues and the master returns with a greater lesson about our distinctions and the price we pay for underestimating them. We learn that while God may not be angry, his love can certainly be severe.