The Laborers in the Vineyard
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Matthew 20:1-16
Death bed conversions are often a controversy. Like the laborers how can someone who follows the rules his whole life share the same rewards as another who breaks those rules and then reap the same benefits from the harvest? Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The obedient son in the prodigal son argues the same to his father. The father’s reply is that all I have is yours but your brother who was dead now lives, was lost is found again. The gift; the payment, is grace. It is given to those who satisfy the requirement regardless of the time spent in fulfilling it. The point is that mercy is, at times, involved in the grace being granted. Not necessarily earned by the individual seeking it, but, rather, by the one who has the power and authority to give it. The landowner’s money, is his to dispense with it as he chooses. God’s grace, likewise, is His to give as He chooses. No one can grant His grace but Him. Those who put in a full day and complained are told to take what they agreed to and go. It seems like they reveal an attitude of sour grapes (no pun intended). In their righteous indignation for what they believe to be just, they reveal their selfishness.
Our best example is the good thief. While suffering with Christ he defends Him, then turns to Christ and asks to be remembered. Christ promises him that he will be with Him in paradise this day. This, I argue, is the institution of the death bed conversion. How can the thief make amends for his transgressions? He can’t get off the cross and make good to all those he has stolen from or offended during his life? However, even then, by turning to Christ must mean something. It is his death bed confession. There will be those who say that the thief was just lying to save his soul from damnation. But, lying is from the prince of lies and Christ would have recognized that before the thief even spoke it. He would have known instantly if the thief was genuine or not. In His forgiving the thief we know what Christ knew.
Purgatory (The Church Suffering) is real and has its purpose here. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Unless we are so in such condition we can not enter heaven. For, God is pure and any blemish that remains upon our hearts or stain on our souls must be first purged before we are worthy to be in His presence. But, Purgatory is a blessing because it is but a matter of time that needs passing until the cleansing is complete and we are welcomed into the celestial House of God. A thief who steals bread due to hunger and not malice, after judgement, receives a sentence from the judge. Mercy is applied in the sentencing. In a case like this the sentence will be more lenient and when the debt is payed freedom is granted. The more severe the sin or more soiled the heart and soul, the mercy is less, and more time and intensity of purging is required to make a sinner a saint. For only saints enter heaven. However, those who suffer through, will find with each passing moment that the intensity of purging lessens, until the pain is no more, forever. The chains forged by our wanton indiscretions that have restrained our rightful claim to our inheritance in Christ are now fallen away. That is the joy of Purgatory. It is not a no, it is a wait. Hell has its own slogan for those in life who have rejected God’s love and forgiveness out of bitterness, ego or other reason of unwillingness toward obedience to that which ensures the best of life’s offerings. That slogan, sadly, is posted above the entrance to Hell: “Abandon all hope, those who enter here.”
We who share a suffering with Christ can not turn to Him as the thief on Calvary in that moment in history; though what an honor and blessing that would be. But, we still can turn to Him at any time during life, and should. For, who among us can guarantee that when we close our eyes to this day, that we will open them to the next. If we do not turn to Christ for forgiveness when alive, it will then be too late to do so after death. Our eternal fate will then rest upon the mercy of the Heavenly Landowner.