Saturday, June 19, 2010

Eleventh Hour

In Bible times, laborers did not receive benefits or a salary, no negotiations for health insurance or vacation time.  Being hired for the day meant very simply that they could eat that night.  Literally, those who did not work did not eat.  So those who were hired at dawn rejoiced at their good fortune and worked a steady 12 hour day.  A denarius was considered at that time a day’s wages for a laborer.  It was the going rate.  No questions asked. 

In the parable of the householder (Matthew 20. 1-16), the householder hired laborers starting at 6 a.m. to work, and he promised each of them a denarius for the day’s work.  But again at 9 a.m., the householder hired another group of laborers to help in the vineyards, and again at noon, again at 3 p.m., and at the “eleventh hour,” at 5 p.m. laborers were hired for the last hour of the day to finish up the job.  When the day was done, wages were distributed.  Those hired at 5 p.m. were paid first.  They received a denarius as did the rest of the workers.  There is a cry of protest from those who were hired earlier in the day, much grumbling, and shouts of “That’s not fair.”  The 5 p.m. workers didn’t deserve a full day’s wages.  They didn’t do a day’s work.  They don’t DESERVE getting as much as me.  But what’s “not fair” is something far different in God’s economy. 


The first workers felt that they deserved more.  But the last-hired fell to their knees, having spent all day knowing that their families would not eat that day.  They knew they did not deserve their wages, but they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that grace had been extended.


When it comes down to it, we ALL are undeserving.  Yea, yea, we say, but I should have gotten more.  I may be undeserving, but I am better than you.  That is probably how you would feel if you were among the first hired.   But how would you feel if you were the last?


Chuck Colson says that the one place on earth where grace is never questioned is not in the church, but in prison.  The inmates know they have messed up.   A volunteer for Prison Fellowship was escorting a pastor in a prison one day.  The pastor was visibly nervous.  The volunteer said to him, “Oh, you don’t have to be worried.  They are just like us -- only they got caught.”  Grace shows that our salvation is not based on what we’ve done. If we could have worked our way to salvation, Christ would not have had to die.   The lie from the Garden is “I don’t need God.”  The truth from the Garden is we need a savior, not for what we deserve, but for what we don’t.


I don’t deserve it.  That is the beginning of grace.

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