Working for the Lord - Grace as Payment

Fr. Emmanuel Herkel

Sometimes we think about religion as a business. St. Peter had this idea. Peter quit his job as a fisherman and followed Jesus during the three years of public ministry. He was willing to do this because Jesus called him to be a fisher of men. Peter wanted to know what his service to Jesus was worth.

We might ask the same question. We invest time and money in God’s business. We come to church on Sundays, we put money in the collection basket and we do other good deeds. We should be curious about the reward God is preparing for us in Heaven. Are we are doing enough? If we do a bit more, will it make much difference in eternity?

The parable about the labourers in the vineyard (from Septuagesima Sunday) shows everyone receiving the same payment: a silver coin which represents sanctifying grace. We must work to obtain it, but it is given to all those who work, as a sort of gift. Grace is more valuable than any earthly reward, but it spiritual so cannot be measured on any earthly scale; grace is a mystery. This was not the answer which St. Peter expected.

Everyone who receives sanctifying grace will be perfectly happy in Heaven. Compare this to an earthly business: a manager has to be careful to pay his workers according to a predetermined scale. We see in the parable how men complain, despite the fact that they receive the agreed amount, because they look with envy on those who had worked only one hour yet received the same wages as those who had worked a full day. A business owner would not risk losing the good will of his long-time employees by making them wait while he paid wages to the men hired only recently. But in Heaven there is no envy; God’s ways are not our ways.

Our Lord’s parable seems to confuse the ideas of wages which are paid to those who work and gifts given to those who are favoured. This is part of the mystery. Wages we earn are not the same thing as gifts we receive. Human wages depend on services rendered. We reckon with time, weight, size and cost; we take into account the quantity and quality of the work completed and we try to determine fair financial compensation. This is just, but God has a different arithmetic – He generously gives us more than we deserve.

This is a lesson on grace, and where grace is concerned, God does not act in a human manner. Grace is not really a payment for work done. Jesus did not offer St. Peter a contract with a fixed spiritual income in exchange for Peter’s work as the pope. Our relationship with God is not the result of a law or a contract. It is an act of love. If we truly love God, He will love us and give us His grace so that we can be happy forever.

- Father Herkel