The story from our Gospel this week (Matthew 20:1-16) is one that asks us to put on the mind of the poet and think in metaphor. On the surface it defies logic and the world of “fairness” in which we live. But man’s sense of fairness and God’s “justice” are not the same. Can we blame some of the gardeners for feeling that they were duped: “what’s going on here; we worked from dusk to dawn, and these guys arrive just before closing time and they get the same pay? That’s not fair!” Who could argue with their logic? Think of it—if you tried to run a business on the basis of paying everyone the same rate, regardless of how well and long they worked, your business wouldn’t last very long and you’d have some very disgruntled employees.
Just as God’s forgiveness requires that we turn logic on its head and suspend our belief system of “quid pro quo,” likewise God’s realm of justice and peace defies our sense of fairness. God’s love has nothing to do with logic or fairness. These are all part of a human convention and a world based on rules, laws and logic. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love or his kingdom. In this kingdom, everyone receives the generosity of God’s grace, God’s unconditional love and God’s unfailing mercy.
David Steindel-Rast writes that “salvation” is homecoming. When love not power reigns supreme, alienation from ourselves, from all others, and from God is healed. The moment we realize we can never fall out of God’s love, we come to “ourselves” like the wayward son in the parable—to our true self at home in the God Household as a uniquely loved member of the family. And now we become catalysts for salvation of the whole world, its transformation from power and domination to service and love. Salvation—and this needs to be stressed—is not a private matter. (Deeper Than Words, Living the Apostle’s Creed, p56.)
In a very real sense, we are all “eleventh hour workers.”