Some time ago we visited one of the more “thriving” churches in our area. Personally I was not impressed with this church; its name sounded more like a country club. I admit that may be snobbish on my part but it just didn’t sound like a Christian church to me. The service was okay, not too meaty, but certainly not offensive; modern music, catchy tunes, nice powerpoint presentation, and quite a robust and impressive (on the surface) children’s program.
When I dropped my youngest gal off in the Children’s Church room designated for her age, I noticed a table with a
bunch of gaily wrapped gifts on top. Each gift was roughly the size of a shoebox, and was very attractive. I don’t remember what else I saw but I deduced that it was the end of the Sunday School quarter, and these were prizes for memory verse work. As a former children’s ministry worker I can spot these things a mile away.
I had a sense of foreboding as I know my youngest child would not react well to not receiving such a beautiful prize, and she was young enough to be difficult to reason with.
After the service I went to collect her while my husband collected the other two from their respective classes. I did see that some children were leaving with those big beautiful presents, and my gal did not have one – but she did not seem very upset. I chided myself for underestimating her.
Then as we were leaving it happened. The teacher said “Rachel, don’t forget your prize!” and I was surprised and pleased…until I saw it. No, it was not a gaily wrapped present; it was a sandwich bag tied with curly ribbon, containing some stickers, a lollipop, and I think a pencil. It was then that I wished the ground would open up and swallow me, as it did the disobedient Israelites so long ago…
My perky, bright eyed blonde beauty stuck her nose up in the air and said, with a decidedly haughty tone “That prize is not good enough for me!” and she strutted out the door, leaving me with a mortified look of horror. I mouthed “I’m so sorry” to the surprised teacher and took off after my gal. I made her come back and apologize, and I told my husband that I was glad I didn’t care for the church, as I would be too embarrassed to ever visit there again anyway.
However, I shared this story with my friends at our home church, and was even more surprised when one of them said “But she’s right!”
Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, brother?
He then reminded me of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. (Read here.) The kingdom of heaven is not about being “fair” to the workers. It is all about the grace of God being shared with whomever He chooses to share it. The workers who were hired in the morning were angry that the workers who came in at the end of the shift got paid the same amount as they who labored all day.
Matthew 20:13 – 15 gives the landowner’s response to the grumbling workers: “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’”
Yes, my daughter, was ungrateful and impolite – but the teacher missed out on an excellent chance to teach an important, real-life object lesson about the Kingdom of Heaven not only to the children who regularly attend that class, but to the visitors.
The Kingdom of Heaven has nothing to do with being “fair” but everything to do with the free sharing of God’s grace with all who enter – those who have been there a long time, and those who come in at the eleventh hour.
Gift photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, kjoyner666 photostream.