“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.” (Isa 55:9).
This passage from the prophet Isaiah is a good thing to remember right about the time you think – “I’ve got this figured out….” The “this” can be just about any on-going aspect of our life. Think you have high school figured out? Being a parent or grandparent? Business? Marriage? Relationships? Tampa Bay Bucs football? Maybe someone is so bold to think, “I have this whole God-thing figured out…” Hmmmm? Really?
Just before this gospel passage in the Bible, there was a rich young man who thought he had mostly figured it out. He had kept all the commandments, was a good person, faithful to the Torah, and prayed in the Temple. He encounters Jesus and asks: “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” I don’t’ think he saw Jesus’ answer coming: “go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man turned from Jesus and went away sad. I guess he had to go off and figure things out.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. The thing is that the young man’s ideas and thoughts about God were sorta’ correct. But God is different and even greater than we imagine. Maybe the young man’s problem is that he is unimaginative.
Imagination is, in part, about breaking away from the expectations of “this is the way thing are” – meaning this is the way things will always be. I bet most of us when we first heard today’s parable about the workers, empathized with the workers who were there all day, bore the brunt of the labor and the heat, and yet got the same as folks who showed up at the last minute. For most of us our first thought was “that’s not fair.” You see, we’ve figured out the whole “what’s fair” thing. But…today’s gospel parable reminds us our idea of “what fair” is a bit different from God’s thoughts and ways on the whole subject.
Here’s another parable for your consideration:
It was time for our final exams. When I got to class, everybody was doing their last-minute studying. The professor came in and said he would review with us for a little bit before the test. Most of the review was right on the study guide, but there were some things he was reviewing that were unfamiliar and I wondered how I had missed it in the lectures. When questioned about it, he said that they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. I thought, “We can’t really argue with that” even as my heart skipped a beat and panic set in.
Finally, the teaching assistant passed out the exams face down on our desks as the professor announced, “Leave them face down on the desk until I tell you to start.” When everyone had their copy, we turned them over, and found every answer on the test already filled in. The bottom of the last page said the following:
“This is the end of the Final Exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an ‘A’ on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get this A.”
We sat in stunned silence wondering if this was a hoax and we were all being filmed on a hidden camera. The professor then looked at us all and asked us collectively, “What is your grade? We mumbled our answers, some thanked the professor, and we mumbled some more. But mostly we sat there a little stunned at the great luck, the good fortune.
Then the professor said, “You have just experienced…grace.”
Just when the students had it all figured out.
What is true about all the workers in the gospel passage is that they would still be standing idle all day except that God sought them out and brought them to a moment of grace. There was no requirements but to follow him to the harvest and do their part. When they lined up to get paid, I am sure a lot of the workers thought they had it all figured out. Not all of them saw grace in action. I wonder if any of them saw the grace of the moment. Sure, some likely thought, “Wow, I lucked out!” But did they see the grace of the moment?
As much as we think about earning, doing it for ourselves, getting ahead, not falling behind, it is easy to overlook one meaning of today’s Gospel: the daily nature of God’s care for us. The workers are paid a just wage and on a daily basis. Each day we, as the workers in God’s vineyard, are asked to trust in God’s providential care. We are asked to rely on God to continue to invite us to be coworkers with Him in the ministry of the Church, the home, work, school and all the places of our lives. We are challenged to believe and recognize the grace that God will provide when we answer the invitation.
So…what part of your life have you got all figured out? Really? I pray that you will recognize the moments of grace coming your way. It comes as God wills: as a surprise, as a moment of inspiration, a movement of love, forgiveness – and so often grace comes into your lives walking toward on two legs.
May the grace of God ever enlighten and sustain you …. Even if you think you have it all figured out.