KEEPING THE FAITH: Some last, some first, all equal

ronnie

Ronnie McBrayer

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 11:02 AM.

There’s an old joke about a man who arrives at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter asks, “What is your denomination?” The man says, “Methodist.” St. Peter says, “OK, go to Room 24, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”

Another man arrives. Peter asks, “What is your denomination?” The man answers, “Catholic.” St. Peter says, “Very well, go to Room 18, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” A third man arrives at the gates. A third time St. Peter asks, “What is your denomination?” The man says, “Baptist.”

“Go to Room 11,” St. Peter says, “but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” The man said, “I can understand there being different rooms for different denominations, but why must I be quiet when I pass Room 8?” St. Peter said, “Well, the Presbyterians are in Room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Of course, in any retelling of this joke, “Presbyterians” can be substituted for any group, because such exclusive, boundary-drawing mindsets are common. These attitudes are not funny, however. They are a severe detriment to God’s witness in the world.

A story from Jesus is apropos here. It is a story about a landowner who hired laborers to harvest grapes from his vineyard. Some employees worked all day, others labored for part of the day, and some arrived to work only at the last hour. In Jesus’ story, the landowner, inexplicably, pays those who were hired last (and worked the least), the same wage as those who were hired first and worked all day long.

No matter which way you cut it, this doesn’t seem very fair. Especially for those of us raised with the good old Protestant work ethic, with entrepreneurial capitalism passed along to us in our mother’s milk, and with a sense that “membership has its privileges,” membership we have duly earned.

So imagine the scene as it plays out. The tired workers form a line at the end of the day to receive their wages. The landowner asks that those hired last be paid first, and he gives them all a full day’s wage. Those who were hired first see this and are thrilled. “Those who worked only an hour got a full day’s pay! Just imagine what we are going to get!”



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