God Is With Us:
Walking Through The Gospel of Matthew
“Whatever Is Right”
Matthew 20: 1-16
Can you imagine…
We all enroll in a class in college. It’s a class we all need for our major. We hear good things about the professor. We all enroll because the professor actually came up to each of us and invited each of us, personally to take her class.
On the first day of the class, the professor handed out the syllabus, and when we all look it over, we can all see, it is quite obviously a difficult class. There’s lots of reading. There are lots of tests. There are lots of daily quizzes. There are lots of papers. It’s a demanding, really hard class. As we all sit there in a stupor of dread, in a gaze of feeling overwhelmed, the professor started to speak. In a gentle, peaceful voice she told us something that gives us all hope. It made me feel better, anyway; I am sure it made you feel better, too.
She told us, “Everyone in here will earn an A at the end of the class. All you have to do is come, and learn. If you accept my invitation to come to class, and I can tell you have learned something, I will give you an A.”
The professor allowed some students to enroll in her class a few weeks into the semester. We find out that she had gone out to the student union, at lunch time, and invited them to come to the class. You and I had been enrolled in the class since the very beginning of the semester. We had been working very hard on all of the tests, quizzes, and papers. I can’t speak for you, but I personally was a little bit annoyed at these newcomers in the class. By the time the professor allowed them into the class, we’d already had one paper due, taken a major test, and had several quizzes. But I didn’t complain. It is the professor’s class.
Now this really got my gander up! About halfway through the semester—half way, just a day or two short of midterms—that same professor let another group of new students enroll into her class. She went to a football game, and at halftime, she went up to a huge group of students, and she invited them to enroll in her class. We were practically at the midterms! You and I had been in the class from the very beginning. We had worked incredibly hard, and we were all making good grades, well-deserved, good grades. I almost complained at this one, but I didn’t. It was the professor’s class.
We were week, one week away from finals. And were you as shocked as I was? That professor welcomed in another new group of students into our class. She had popped into a fraternity/sorority mixer, and she invited them all into her class, our class! The class was almost done! I was shocked. I was angry. I don’t know about you all. You all are better at masking your emotions than I am. I bit my tongue. Oh, but I did give those new students, and the professor a shot or two of steely blue eyes, you know, the look… but I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t say anything until…
Oh! This angers me just to talk about it. That professor… She gave us all A’s. She gave us all A’s, you and me who had been in the class from the very beginning…But then I found out…She gave everyone A’s, not just us. The students who came into the class a few weeks into the semester—they got A’s. The students who came into the class around midterm—they got A’s. The students who came into the class just a week before finals—they all got A’s, too.
I decided not to be nice. I decided…no, I didn’t decide it. I knew! I knew this wasn’t right. I knew this wasn’t just. I went to her. I went to that professor, and I complained. I tried my best to use my deep voice, and not my normal squeaky voice.
I told her, I said, “Doctor. This just isn’t right. I respect your decision to give all your students A’s so long as they accepted your invitation, came to class and you could tell they had learned something. I was annoyed when you let students in a few weeks into the semester. I was annoyed because I had been there from the beginning. I was also annoyed—very annoyed—when they got an A, just like I did. I was irritated when you still let students into the class midterm. I was irritated because I had been in your class from the very beginning, and I, like all of us students who had been there since day one, have been working so, so hard, from the beginning. I was incredibly irritated when those students got A’s, too, just like me. Professor, Doctor—I wasn’t just annoyed. I wasn’t just irritated. I was angry, yes I was angry when you had the audacity to allow new students to come into your class just a week before finals. Are you kidding me? I have been learning from you, and attending class faithfully all of these weeks. I, and many of us, haven’t missed a single class. But professor….Oh m gosh, professor, I am livid…I am absolutely livid that you gave all of those new students—students who missed fourteen out of fifteen weeks of our class—A’s too. I, many of us, worked extremely hard. We have never missed a class. We got A’s. But so did all of these other people who couldn’t have worked a third, or half as hard as I and we did because they just weren’t there. I, many of us, have been here, in this class since the very beginning. We have learned, Professor. We have learned! These other folks, these folks who haven’t been in class nearly as long as we have—they couldn’t have learned half, or a third of what we who have always been here have learned! It isn’t right, Professor. It isn’t right, and I am upset.”
I told her this! I did.
And don’t you know… That professor, she just smiled at me. She just smiled at me, gave me a light tap on my shoulder, and she said, “Jeff, buddy. You are a good student. You are a good student, and you did work hard in my class. No one can ever take away from you all that you learned from all of your hard work from this class. You knew from the very beginning that I said that anyone who came to this class would get an A, so long as they accepted my invitation, and learned something.” I was seething, and I am sure she could see it. She just smiled again, and said very gently, “Jeff, it is my class. I am allowed to set my grading standards, and my policies. I wanted to give out A’s to anyone who accepted my invitation. It’s my class. It’s my business. I wanted to give you an A. I wanted to give all of them an A. And I did. The last will be first, and the first will be last.”
My story is different, but in many ways my story is the same as Jesus’ parable of the landowner, the landowner who gives everyone—the workers he hired at sunrise, the workers he hired at nine, the workers he hired at noon, and the workers he hired at five o’clock in the evening—the same daily wage.
It isn’t fair.
It doesn’t make sense.
It isn’t just.
No college dean, and no academic faculty would ever allow the professor in my story to get away with it.
No labor board, no judge would ever allow the landowner in Jesus’ parable to get away with it, either.
It isn’t fair.
It doesn’t make sense.
It isn’t just.
It is grace.
The decisions of the professor, the decisions of the landowner are sacred, and holy decisions, not rational, human decisions. Thus those decisions are gracious decisions, decisions of heart over head, and decisions of a parent’s love over the children’s judgment.
Jesus invited the thief on the cross to walk with him in paradise. That means when Peter got there—Peter who dedicated his whole life to Jesus; Peter, who was, like all the apostles, martyred out of their love and service for Jesus—he got to see a thief who followed Jesus for all of five minutes right there, right with the apostles and the mothers and fathers of the Church, with Jesus, in heaven.
Some people spend their lives in love with Jesus. We consider them saints. Surely they are in heaven. Some people make deathbed confessions and find deathbed grace leading them to deathbed conversions, and surely they are in heaven, too.
We have to ask about the murderers, the child abusers, the rapists, the molesters. We don’t want them to be in heaven with Mother Teresa, more importantly, with us.
But the professor says, “It’s my class. It’s my decision.”
But the landowner says, “It’s my land. It’s my money. It’s my decision.”
And the Lord Jesus says, “It’s my humanity. It’s my kingdom. It’s my cross. It’s my grace. It’s my decision.”
All I can do, all you can do, is accept the invitation of Lord Jesus. We accept the invitation just like those students invited by the professor with one week to go in the semester; just like those laborers invited to work by the landowner just an hour from quitting time. All we can do is accept the invitation, and accept the grace so amazingly offered as a gift of love to us.
Knowing our place, we leave the grading policy, the pay scale policy, and the invitation policy to the One the policies, the decisions belong to: the professor whose class it is; the landowner whose farm it is; the Lord whose earth, whose humanity, whose heaven, and whose love, it all is.