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I don’t like to be late and actually prefer to get places well ahead of time. I also don’t like to wait around, which means that I create my own frustrations by arriving early, but today is not the time for sorting out my psychological issues; however, awhile back as I was walking through the airport – I was early for my flight – then I saw the line through security… very long. fifty to sixty people deep long and moving slow. Now, not only was I probably going to be late, I was also going to have to wait. I entered the cattle shoot – the long winding back and forth partitions for the line. As I made the left side cutback, I started passing folks on the other side of the ropes. I figured that it was going to turn me back eventually, but no. It was only when I was a few steps from the security desk that I realized I was in the TSA pre-approved line. That’s the line that allows you to scoot on through, because you have enough money and have jumped through a few hurdles.
Looking up at the agent, I said, “Oh, sorry. I’m in the wrong line.” And was turning to go, when the agent said, “It’s OK, honey. Come on through.” I didn’t even have my collar on. I smiled and looked over at the other line. It wasn’t one of those gloating smiles either. I was just happy. There were people scowling at me. For a brief moment, I feared for my safety. I ducked my head and hurriedly went the rest of the way through security before any of the others could get through and find me. They were ticked because not only did I scoot through, but also because I shouldn’t have been allowed. I should have been spun on my heels and sent to the back of the line. Just ask anybody who was standing in that line of fifty to sixty people. We don’t always like seeing people receive something we do not feel they deserve. Why? Because we believe that we are the one entitled, deserving of preferential treatment.
In fact, recent studies indicate that the levels of entitlement are increasing in our country. Folks feel like they deserve certain things, whether they’ve earned them or not. A Dr. Joshua Grubbs states in one article, “At extreme levels, entitlement is a toxic narcissistic trait, repeatedly exposing people to the risk of feeling frustrated, unhappy and disappointed with life. Often times, life, health, aging and the social world don’t treat us as well as we’d like. Confronting these limitations is especially threatening to an entitled person because it violates their worldview of self-superiority.” This is true for situations in the world – having to stand in line while others scoot through – but it is also true for the things of heaven. That is part of what Jesus was talking about in our parable today. Those who had been working all day believed their payment should be greater than that of those who had only worked an hour, and when it was equal, they became angry.
I’ve been in a church, most of the time working in a church, doing the business of God almost everyday for at least the last fifteen years, and you’re going to tell me that some schmo on death row gets a case of Jesus five minutes before they light him up is going to get into heaven? That’s just not right.
There’s a little bit of Jonah in us all. He’s the prophet that was told by God to go to Nineveh and preach repentance because the people had turned from God. He’s most often remembered for getting swallowed up by a whale, but he got swallowed up because he was disobedient. When God called him to go to Nineveh, he went in the opposite direction. Later he would relent – not necessarily repent – and went to Nineveh and preached as God had called him to. The people repented and returned to the Lord – that’s a good thing – but Jonah was angry with God. Why? He didn’t believe they were entitled, were worthy of God’s forgiveness. When God’s anger toward the Ninevites relented, Jonah said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Just as soon as you told me to go and preach at those heathen, I knew they were going to repent, and then you were going to forgive them. And that is exactly what happened. Kill me now, because I can’t take the sight of all this mercy. Of all this grace. Of all this love. And we can be like Jonah. We’ve judged them, and we know what they are deserving of and it is not the Kingdom of Heaven.
But wouldn’t it be something if we celebrated? If we rejoiced with the angels in heaven, for Jesus says, “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Wouldn’t it be something if we smiled back when the lucky schmuck caught a break and got to skip through the long line? Wouldn’t it be something if we rejoiced over the one who was lost, but now is found? Wouldn’t it me something if it was about the amazing gift of grace, mercy, love that they received instead of being about our judgment on their worthiness?
In his work, Disputed Questions, Thomas Merton writes, “Since Christ Himself loved us when we were by no means worthy of love and still loves us with all our unworthiness, our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love; and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbor worthy if anything can.”
St. John writes in his Revelation:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
Jesus is the only one that is worthy and it is only through him that we are made worthy, equal in the eyes of God; therefore, do not judge, do not become angry when someone receives honor, when someone receives forgiveness, instead rejoice with the angels for the victory of our God.
Let us pray: This is a poem, also a hymn, by Charles D. Meigs, written sometime between 1890 and 1902, titled Others:
Lord help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for – Others.
Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true
And know that all I do for you
Must needs be done for – Others.
Let “Self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep; and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again
Unless to live for – Others.
And when my work on earth is done
And my new work in heaven’s begun
May I forget the crown I’ve won
While thinking still of – Others.
Others, Lord, yes others
Let this my motto be
Help me to live for others
That I may live like Thee.