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The Gospel for Septuagesima: Christians Need to Stop Pining for the Big Payoff

From the 1928 BCP, it’s the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard:

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like an employer who went out in the early morning to hire labourers for his vineyards. He agreed with the labourers to pay them two shillings a day, and sent them into his vineyard. On going out again, about nine o’clock, he saw some others standing in the market-place, doing nothing. ‘You also may go into my vineyard,’ he said, ‘and I will pay you what is fair.’ So the men went.

Going out again about mid-day and about three o’clock, he did as before. When he went out about five, he found some other men standing there, and said to them ‘Why have you been standing here all day long, doing nothing?’

‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

‘You also may go into my vineyard,’ he said.

In the evening the owner of the vineyard said to his steward ‘Call the labourers, and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, and ending with the first. Now when those who had been hired about five o’clock went up, they received two shillings each. So, when the first went up, they thought that they would receive more, but they also received two shillings each; On which they began to grumble at their employer.

‘These last,’ they said, ‘have done only one hour’s work, and yet you have put them on the same footing with us, who have borne the brunt of the day’s work, and the heat.’

‘My friend,’ was his reply to one of them, ‘I am not treating you unfairly. Did not you agree with me for two shillings? Take what belongs to you, and go. I choose to give to this last man the same as to you. Have not I the right to do as I choose with what is mine? Are you envious because I am liberal?’ So those who are last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, Positive Infinity New Testament.)

If there’s one thing that bothers me about Evangelical Christianity these days, it’s that people expect–and are promised–a big pay-off for what they do (and especially what they give) to the Lord.  There’s really nothing new about this–it’s an issue that comes up more than once in the Gospels and elsewhere–but these days it’s pursued with a singular lack of subtlety.

We know that our reward is eternity with God.  That is ultimately the “two shillings” (I love the old British currency in this translation) of the parable.  What else is better?


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