I first met Philip Yancey in a Leper colony in Louisiana. No, I wasn't there, but he had been there with a doctor friend and the story that came out of his experiences brought me to my senses as a Christian. It was then, I stopped "playing" church as I began to finally contemplate my role in this greatest of all adventures in life. It was time to stop reading about Jesus and stop studying about Him through the wisdom displayed in the countless numbers of books, explaining theology. I remembered that old phase from a Commercial class in high school, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country." I had done that. I was there, involved in the Korean War as a teenager. It was a great place to lay aside childish notions and become the man God had in mind when He blessed the womb of my Mother. Now, it was time to act as a man. That story will enfold as we move along, but now I want you to attend a play through the words of our host, Philip Yancey as expressed in one of his many books; this one, "What's So Amazing about Grace?"
"I had attended Amadeus (Latin for 'beloved of God') a play that shows a composer in the seventeenth century seeking to understand the mind of God. The devout Amadeus Salieri had an earnest desire, but not the aptitude to create immoral music of praise. It infuriates him that God has instead lavished the greatest gift of musical genius ever known on an impish preadolescent named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
While watching the performance, I realized I was seeing the flip side of a problem that had long troubled me The play was posing the same question as the book of Job, only inverted. The author of Job ponders why God would punish the most righteous man on the face of the earth; the author of Amadeus ponders why God would "reward" an undeserving brat. The problem of pain meets its match in the scandal of Grace. A line from the play expresses the scandal, "What use, after all, is man if does not to teach God His lessons?"
Why would God choose Jacob the deceiver over dutiful Esau? Why confer supernatural powers of strength on a Mozartian delinquent named Sampson? Why groom a runty shepherd boy, David, to be Israel's king? And why bestow a sublime gift of wisdom on Soloman, the fruit of that king's adulterous liaison? Indeed, in each of these Old Testament stories the scandal of Grace rumbles under the surface until finally, in Jesus parables, it burst forth in a dramatic upheaval to reshape the moral landscape.
Jesus parable of the workers and their greedy unfair paychecks confronts the scandal head-on. In a contemporary Jewish version of the story, the workers hired late in the afternoon work so hard that the employer impressed, decides to award them a full day's wages. Not so, in Jesus' version, which notes that the last crop of workers had been idly standing around in the marketplace, something only
lazy shiftless workers would do in harvest season. Moreover, those laggards do nothing to distinguish themselves, and the other workers are shocked by the pay they receive. What employer in his right mind would pay the same amount for one hour's work as for the twelve?
Jesus' story makes no economic sense, and that was His intent. He was giving a parable about Gracc, which cannot be calculated like a day's wages. Grace is not about finishing first or last, it is about counting. We receive Grace as a gift from God, not as something we toil to earn, a point that Jesus made clearly through the employer's response: "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do as I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"
Are you, Salieri, envious because I am so generous to Mozart? Are you, Saul, envious because I am so generous to David? Are you Pharisees envious because I open the gate to the Gentiles so late in the game? That I honor the prayer of the tax collector above a Pharisee's, that I accept a thief's last-minute confession ad welcome him to Paradise?....
Yancey concludes this portion of his thoughts on Grace, by quoting Frederick Buechner: "People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in the field that is more than enough to purchase the State of Texass. They are prepared for a God who makes hard bargains, but not for a God that gives as much as an hour's work as for a day's. They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger tha the eye of a newt, but not for the great bayan tree it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart. They are prepared for a potluck dinner at First Presbyterian, but not for the supper of the Lamb."
That is like telling a it is. I have attended so many church services that I long ago stopped counting as I have more often been blessed by what I have saeen and heard, more often than not. I love it when we gather together so that we might realize that we are not alone. But the greatest gift of all is to see the love that is being shared with the greatest as well as the least among us, no one counting and surely there is no one assessing the value of the others. It is then I get a glimpse of what the heavens will appear to be i the future than lies just beyond the setting of that last sunset