Our natural intuition and conventional wisdom may help us flow well with the ways of this world, but if we want to track with the Kingdom of God, we have to learn the counter-intuitive ways of Christ. An excellent book on this subject is Donald Kraybill's The Upside-Down Kingdom. In today's text, Jesus teaches two more lessons about the inverted nature of God's Kingdom.
In the kingdom's of this world, reward is earned. There are pay rates and scales. The expectation is that the longer and harder you work, the greater will be your compensation. The problem with applying that principle to Christ's Kingdom is that right relationship with God and entrance into the Kingdom can not be earned. This is perhaps the greatest misunderstanding in the realm of religion and spirituality -- that somehow, we can work our way into Heaven. 'I must be good enough. I must be holy enough. I can perform spiritual exercises and grow in faith and goodness. When death comes, I will have amassed a spiritual resume sufficient for access into eternal bliss.' But devout religious ritual + sincere good deeds DO NOT = the gospel of Jesus Christ. Careful study of the New Testament would lay that fallacy to rest, but few are willing to read it much less study it with care.
Jesus tells a story about how everyone who responds to His call to join Him in His work receives the same reward. Heaven is for those who labored with Him, one hour or eleven. The only way that that does not qualify as unfairness is if the reward is not based on the work. And it's not. The reward is based on God's grace and generosity. Of course, this story of His is not a complete theology, so one has to read more to understand how it fits with things like repentance, regeneration and discipleship. But the core concept is clear - salvation is not merit based. It is mercy based. The meritorious work is referred to in the verses after the parable - "the Son of Man must be ... mocked and flogged and crucified .." The only work related to our heavenly reward is the work of Christ on the cross. His work accomplished what our meager efforts could never have achieved.
The second counter-intuitive lesson in our reading is Christ's definition of greatness. In the world, the 'great ones' rule from on high with dominion and authority. In God's Kingdom, the great ones are the servants. Sacrificially meeting the needs of others is the sign of greatness, which is exemplified in the surrender of Christ to the aforementioned work of the cross. He loses that we might gain. He lowers Himself that we might be exalted. He dies that we might live. He is the greatest of the great -- because He is the servant of all. How topsy-turvy is that? It's how the first becomes last and the last, first. It's how we get paid when He did all the work. It's the way of the upside-down Kingdom.
You do well to let Jesus stand your life on its head!
Pray: Lord, help me to see life the way You see it. Your thoughts are not my thoughts and Your ways not my ways. Teach me Your Kingdom perspective, so I can be in the world, but not of the world.