“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ Matthew 20:9;12
I tend to place myself within parables as I read them (always identifying with the most godly of the story’s characters, of course!). After I read the parable of the workers in the vineyard, I instead imagined a scene from my future:
I walk into Heaven after serving God for most of my long life and find myself face to face with a couple of Nazis.
Huh? This is Heaven right? What’s going on here?
I suddenly recall reading the testimony of the U.S. Army chaplain assigned to minister to the surviving leaders of the Third Reich during their year-long trial at Nuremburg. He claimed several were saved, including the chief of the German armed forces and the head of their massive slave labor force. As I stand in Heaven staring them straight in the eye, I see that he was right. I’m not sure how I feel about sharing the same eternal fate as men who were personally responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and caused great misery for hundreds of millions more. They dedicated themselves to God only in the eleventh hour as they approached their executions. Something doesn’t seem right. Something doesn’t seem fair.
I look around the golden city and marvel at this, my eternal reward, and then start to wonder anew if I’m really being given nothing more than the reward these reformed killers have received. Suddenly my eyes fall upon Jesus. He’s looking at me with an expression that suggests He’s waiting for something to click within my mind. Finally it does. I realize that this eternal reward I feel slighted in having to share with the Nazis is a reward that Jesus alone actually earned. Fairness to Jesus would require that I take up residence in hell. I’m only here because of God’s grace. How then can I be wishing, even for a moment, that He apply a little justice to someone else?
I see Jesus is still waiting, and my thoughts break through yet another wall. I might be sharing the same eternal fate as men who rebelled against God to a degree that few others in history ever have, but it’s SO wrong to think that God has blessed us equally. We might be neighbors in Heaven, but I was given something they never were. They served God only toward the end of lives filled with evil. On the other hand, God prevented me from committing such levels of evil, and blessed me by drawing me to Him early in life. These men lived most of their lives in service to themselves. I was invited to live most of my life in service to the Great and Holy King. What an unparalleled privilege!
Dear Lord, thank you for mercy rather than justice. Destroy my lingering love of fairness. Replace it with an ever greater love of goodness and grace. Amen.
From the archives. Originally published July 10, 2011.