It is easy to believe that heaven is due payment for having to live through the misery of earth. We walk in danger all the way. It often feels like we are careening from one heartache to another, that we’re only one misstep away from disaster and ruin. So the more we suffer, the harder our life, the better we are at controlling ourselves, the more we help others, the oftener we go to church, the more we do right—then the more we are sure we deserve the payment and reward of heaven.
Certainly, the crown of righteousness has been laid up for us, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to all who have loved His appearing. And there is no doubt that this heavenly reward awaits all those who walk worthy of the calling—those who live their baptism with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. With all confidence, we can and should expect to receive this crown, this reward, this heavenly life. For Our Lord has promised it to us. And by His Spirit, this incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that does not fade away is reserved in heaven for you.
But does this mean we have deserved it? Will we get heaven simply because we’ve paid our dues with the coin of grief, sickness, and death? Have we earned it because we’ve given our best years to a futile cause? And is it ours because we’ve worked and sweated to do the right thing, to turn our life around, to make the best of our rotten luck? Beware of such thoughts. For they tempt us to take pride in ourselves, our work and even our misery. And they tempt us to compare ourselves with each other, to see how we measure up, and to determine who’s really deserving and undeserving. But most of all, when we are convinced that we have earned our place in heaven, we belittle and dismiss the Lord’s mercy and grace. We live, not in gratitude for God and love for others, but selfishly.
That is what we see in today’s Gospel. Those laborers who cry “foul” at the end of the day are not grousing about unfair labor practices. Rather, they are thinking only of themselves. And they are more concerned with getting what they deserve than they receiving their denarius with thanksgiving. For this story is not about workers and management. It’s about the kingdom of heaven. And in the kingdom of heaven, the coin—the denarius—is our Lord’s mercy and kindness.
Our Lord’s mercy is called that precisely because it is undeserved. It is His kindness, His love, His compassion extended to us who have rebelled against Him, who live as if He doesn’t matter, who abuse His creation, who think little of His gifts, and who are quick to believe the worst of Him; those who are convinced that the Lord’s will is never done and that His kingdom will never come; those who are sure that the Lord has abandoned them or is against them—they are the ones to whom our Lord extends His mercy. For no good reason whatsoever, our Lord also invites us into His kingdom, His vineyard, so that we might not be destroyed by idleness, but would live in Him by tending to the good fruits He has planted for our use and enjoyment.
So let our eyes focus not on what we think we deserve. If we do, we will miss what our Lord has already given us. For His mercy endures forever. Let us fix our hearts and minds, our efforts and desires, our prayers and affections only on this—that our Lord Jesus once again, and without fail, has mercy on us by speaking into us His healing forgiveness, and by feeding us with the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.