Learning The Way Of Otherness

dollargreenothernessThe kingdom of heaven is like a man who owned land. He went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to give them the usual pay for a day’s work. Then he sent them into his vineyard.  About nine o’clock in the morning he went out again. He saw others standing in the market doing nothing.  He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard. I’ll pay you what is right.’  So they went.

He went out again about noon and at three o’clock and did the same thing.  About five o’clock he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’  ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.  He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard spoke to the person who was in charge of the workers. He said, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay. Begin with the last ones I hired. Then go on to the first ones.’  The workers who were hired about five o’clock came. Each received the usual day’s pay.  So when those who were hired first came, they expected to receive more. But each of them also received the usual day’s pay.   When they received it, they began to complain about the owner.  ‘These people who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said. ‘You have paid them the same as us. We have done most of the work and have been in the hot sun all day.’

The owner answered one of them. ‘Friend,’ he said, ‘I’m being fair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for the usual day’s pay?   Take your money and go. I want to give the one I hired last the same pay I gave you.   Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?’

So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.  Matthew 20:1-16 NIRV

We have a lot to learn about this Kingdom – this strangely unfamiliar and glorious Kingdom in which we have been appointed citizens.

Have you ever been to a country where your language was unknown, and the culture was so different that the world view you brought with you was turned upside down?  Imagine multiplying that experience a hundredfold and you may just begin to find your bearings in the Kingdom of God. Everything we’ve learned here in the kingdoms of this world is useless to us in the God-Kingdom.  We are like refugees confronted with things we have never seen or heard in our previous lives.

I have had the privilege of working closely with newly arrived refugees here in Australia and have witnessed first-hand the wonder, the fear, the confusion and the sheer bewilderment many experience as they come to terms with their new surroundings.  Did you ever wonder why Jesus spent so many hours patiently telling His disciples stories that started with ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like……’ ?  He knew their deeply entrenched and earth bound ideas about everything from God, to human relationships to wealth and justice, needed to be deeply confronted and challenged  if they were to be His Kingdom bearers in this world.

By the way, His present day Kingdom bearers, (yes, that’s you and me), need the same, if not a deeper, awakening to the reality of His Kingdom and our place in it.  His Kingdom is not of this world, nor are we, its citizens.  I believe it is a great desire in the Lord’s heart to have a people to whom He can point and say ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like……them!’

One of these ‘Kingdom is like’ stories is recorded in Matthew 20:1-16.  It involves a businessman who hires workers at various intervals during the day, starting early in the morning with the first recruitments and finishing just one hour before knock off time.  Near the end of the story we find the workers hired first complaining loudly of unfair treatment because the laborers hired for only one hour received the same wages as they did.

The workers’ true grievance is not that others have received the same wage as them, which was a normal day’s wage, but that their work has seemingly been devalued.

I don’t know what your response would be in this situation but everything I’ve learned about justice in this world shouts out that those early workers are right – it is unjust they should earn no more than those who worked only one hour in the coolest part of the day.  And it’s likely our modern justice systems would agree with me. No doubt the landowner would be found guilty of breaching labor laws, and ordered to pay the earliest workers more than the late ones.

But in the Kingdom of God my idea of justice would be a totally foreign concept.  It would in fact be injustice towards God, because my attitude denies Him the right to be Who He is.  Do you see it?  Outrageously, what is naturally considered an injustice in the kingdoms of this world is seen as fair and equitable in the God-Kingdom.

The Kingdom is the opposite of the world’s false normality.  It is the otherness the world longs for yet can never quite comprehend. Everything about Kingdom life is inconsistent with life as we have known it.

That’s why the God-Kingdom is such a radical, scandalous, dangerous concept to the citizens of this world.  That’s why the Cross of Christ is hated, ridiculed, slandered and demeaned.   That’s why the people of the Cross are persecuted, killed and mocked.  That’s why the Name of Jesus Christ is blasphemed and reviled by those whose fortunes are intrinsically connected to the vast wall of world systems humanity has spent thousands of years building around itself.

The Kingdom of God is the greatest threat to its ongoing existence that human civilization has ever faced. Let’s be clear: the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world cannot co-exist. A time will come, and is already upon us, when Christ followers will each have to choose where their allegiance lies.

The landowner in the story shows us a major key to the God-Kingdom when he states:  I want to give the one I hired last the same pay I gave you.   Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?’

And therein lies the mystery that is grace.  ‘I want to give…..’ God wants to give the same salvation, the same Heavenly citizenship, the same no-holds-barred love to the prostitute as to the President, to the tramp as to the stateswoman, to the colored person as to the white person, to the mentally unstable as to the neurophycisist, to the welfare recipient as to the billionaire.

And for we who consider ourselves saved, sealed and delivered already into His Kingdom it gets even more confronting.  Because in the God-Kingdom His grace counts for everything and what we’ve done as an expression of our ‘saved’ status counts for nothing.

That means the missionary who spent a lifetime serving on the field gets the same as the businessperson who lived for themselves and believed on Christ five minutes before dying;  it means the elder who rose early for years to ensure the church was ready for services, prayed with the sick and served on the board gets the same as the drug addict who loved Christ but was too ashamed to come to church;  it means the celebrity pastor who planted dozens of churches, preached to the nations and wrote umpteen famous books gets the same as the unknown prayer warrior who labored secretly with tears and groanings unheard by no-one but God.

In the Kingdom the last and the least become the first and the most.

What kind of justice is that?

It’s the justice that was poured out at the Cross, where Innocence was condemned, judged and executed.   And in this world it is unacceptable and offensive.  The Cross is the greatest equalizer humanity will ever behold.  And it’s offensive because it lays naked the inadequacy of all the systems, indeed kingdoms, we have built around ourselves that we call civilization.

‘Do you feel cheated because I gave so generously to the others?’  the landowner asks the complaining laborers who would prefer their own idea of justice to His.  We in the Body of Christ are no different when we choose law over grace.  We are those very same laborers when we consider ourselves more deserving of reward because we ‘aren’t like other people’ (see Luke 18:11).  We are those laborers when we believe God should love us more because of our church attendance, financial giving, charity work or commandment keeping.

God is no-one’s debtor.  Grace is His to give and He chooses to give it.  He chooses to give it to whomever, wherever and whenever it pleases Him.

This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

Totally. Absolutely. Irrevocably. Other.

We have a lot to learn about this Kingdom – this strangely unfamiliar and glorious Kingdom in which we have been appointed citizens.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. All rights reserved.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.



Categories: Life in Christ, The Bride of Christ, The Cross, The Kingdom, Words of Grace and Truth

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7 replies

  1. YES! It’s very other…..He gives and He takes away…..surrender, surrender, surrender, accept, accept, accept, and know his love, compassion and healing in the pain that will no doubt accompany it and then RISE! Not easy is it? Who said Christianity is a crutch, lol! Thanks, Cheryl I love Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’ on this…

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  2. I recently had the privilege of speaking at the memorial service of an outstanding missionary woman, who together with her husband helped to pioneer a small congregation among the Quechua people in the high Peruvian Andes. For the last 20 years they laboured to bring the Good News to impoverished folk in our country and in Peru. Sadly she died of mouth cancer after suffering horrifically over a year or two. Some commented: why did she, who did so much ‘for the Lord,’ have to suffer so severely? I tried to point out the grace theme of Jesus you have so beautifully expounded above, that at the end of the day it is not about us and our ‘good works’ etc but Jesus and his sheer grace. Amazingly a seasoned pastor present from my ex-denomination, suggested that this saint suffered so much so that she might obtain a ‘better resurrection’ (Heb. 11:35), suggesting there are two kinds of resurrections, one for ordinary believers and one for those who have suffered… The ‘works gospel’ dies hard.

    Bless you Cheryl for reminding us of the ‘otherness’ of Jesus and his kingdom.

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    • Very interesting comment you’ve made Erroll, thankyou for sharing that story. As Jesus pointed out in John 5:29, there are two kinds of resurrection, one to life, and one to condemnation. How sad that the pastor you mention didn’t understand that. We certainly know which one is the ‘better’one. I see that particular comment of Paul’s in Hebrews 11:35 as pointing out those he was speaking of preferred death and the ‘better resurrection’ to life, than to continue in this world. God does not require us to suffer or do anything else to deserve the Kingdom. If we do suffer the purpose is fellowship with Christ in His suffering…it takes us deeper but doesn’t make us ‘better’. And I’m left wondering after reading the pastor’s explanation what is an ‘ordinary’ believer.

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      • Yes, sadly he had totally misread Heb. 11:35, the explanation being exactly what you have pointed out. I don’t enjoy confronting people, but felt I should mail him that evening. Weeks have gone by but I haven’t had a reply…

        All the same, I need to keep checking my own spirit in the matter you wrote on, because I know how easily I default to religiosity. Thanks for taking the time to reply, explain the text and comment on the purpose of suffering.

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      • Religiosity seems to be the default for all of us, so you’re certainly not the only one needing to keep a check on that one 🙂 Thanks for your comments Erroll.

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  3. Oh!!! Feasting on the truth served here. On one hand it is painful, yes, confronting and challenging to where I have my faith, my trust, rather than in the King. But it makes me giddy, too…this stuff lights my fire. An unearned love, one in which I could do nothing to bring about, is also one in which I could do nothing to turn away. I’ve experienced that grace, in the depths… But by the grace of God go I.

    Thank you, Cheryl!

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