Soul Seeds: Divine Order
To those raised in the rather corrupt version of Judaism which held sway in Jesus’ day, the idea wealth and power were not signs of God’s favor came as a shock. Even having been with Jesus quite some months, the Twelve still suffered that false apprehension. So when Jesus dismissed the Rich Young Ruler as not worthy of salvation, the disciples were stunned. If those “so obviously blessed of God” were not going to see Heaven, who in this world could be saved? (Matthew 19:25ff)
Jesus’ answer was cryptic only to our modern Western ears. It would be another way of saying salvation had nothing to do with human efforts, but was wholly the work of God. Furthermore, God could save anyone He found worthy, regardless of what His People thought of them.
Still struggling past yet another earthquake in his worldview, Peter noted he and his fellow disciples had left all they owned, and some of them had quite a bit of property. This question was not as obtuse at it seems. Peter was floundering for a firm mental footing, and wanted to know what it was “salvation” meant if not the equivalent of the Old Covenant concept of shalom: protection from enemies, material prosperity, and long life. The disciples were unable to see how those things were not the salvation itself, but were mere symbols of the real blessings of God.
To paraphrase Jesus’ answer:
“Do you think that young nobleman had power? Let me tell you about real power! Think of the End Times, when God judges all humanity. I will be seated on the Throne of Heaven. Those of you following Me today will be allowed to sit in judgment over the Twelve Tribes of Israel, because you are the firstfruits of Israel under the New Covenant. And anyone else who abandons their old life to follow Me into the New Life will have so very much more than they left behind, truly Eternal Life.
“But let Me warn you: the Kingdom of Heaven does not operate on a human scale of value, especially when it comes to justice…”
Then He continues by telling the Parable of the Vineyard Workers (Matthew 20:1-16). When harvest time came to the vineyards, the regular crew of caretakers had nowhere near enough hands to get the crop in before the grapes began to rot. Grape harvest was the best opportunity for the poor-but-able-bodied to make some good money. By tradition, they would gather in the public market square. Anyone needing a day crew would hire as many as they needed, and usually all they could get. The standard wage for what was basically unskilled labor was in Jesus’ time a denarius.
A particularly anxious vineyard owner might return to the market place more than once to see if any other laborers showed up. In this story, the owner went at sunrise, 9AM, noon, 3PM and a last time at 5PM, when there was only an hour left in the traditional workday. Each time, he hired whomever he found for a full day’s pay. When the workday ended at 6PM, the owner called those hired last and gave them the agreed amount. And so it went until he came to those hired at sunrise.
A few dared to grumble that the owner did not pay on a sliding scale, offering more to those who had worked a full day. They felt cheated. Their complaint was wholly unjustified. The owner said each was paid what was agreed. “What difference is it to you if I am generous to these last?” The few who dared to grumble were afflicted with the wrong attitude. They had nothing in the first place. Because of the owner’s desire to have an efficient harvest, he was willing to offer a reasonable portion of his wealth to those who fulfilled his purpose. Otherwise, they were at the mercy of popular charity, which seldom amounted to much. A denarius is as much as a man might beg in a week.
We come into this world, and in so doing are tainted with sin. We all deserve a short, painful life, a horrid prolonged death, followed by eternity in Hell. God in His mercy offered a way past this in the covenants of Noah and Moses. They took care of this life’s sorrows, and opened the door to blessings far higher, blessings so rich and generous all the earthly stuff was of no consequence. In Christ the offer is restated and clarified. Some He will call early and they will carry the load of Kingdom work for all but the first few years of their lives. Others will respond late in life, barely making it into the arms of Jesus before their bodies expire. Once dead, who can explain what awaits them? All we have is the promise it will be far better than any can describe. It’s enough to know we are allowed in the gate.
Those who somehow conclude their long life of Kingdom service was a burden and an imposition have forgotten whence they came. If faithfulness is not its own crown, what reward can God offer? Would any dare to grumble that God is unfair in giving Eternal Life to those who have wasted all but their last moments in the pleasures of wickedness? If God were simply and coldly just, there would have been no Jesus come to save from sin, early or late, nor even a Covenant of Noah.
Those who focus on what they can get in human terms understand neither God nor His Creation. They have no clue how things work. We cannot afford to become trapped in seeking wealth and power on this earth. What we need will be granted for the service to which we are called. God decides who gets what, and we rejoice we are included. We rejoice when anyone else is included, never mind what they appear to have paid for the privilege. Naturally, those who just made it in the door at the last minute would feel so very fortunate. So by human standards, the last will be first, and the first will be last.
What would be the Kingdom standard? Whose reward and opportunity was the best? A life-long sacrifice for Christ is its own reward.