Our Salvation is Totally Unmerited

Our Salvation is Totally Unmerited

It happens often, especially to impress someone that kids brag about their parents or older siblings. “My dad is a lawyer; mine is a doctor; my mom is the vice-president of that famous Company; my brother is the quarterback of the high school team.”

Should we brag about our God? Our Hebrew ancestors did: “Your countries have gods of silver and gold. They have mouth, ears, feet, hands, but they are lifeless. OUR GOD IS IN HEAVEN WHATEVER HE WILLS HE DOES.” (Cf. Psalm 115:3).

In the Book of Isaiah (55:6-9), He deliberately repeats His unchallenged, unparalleled superiority lest we forget and try to bend His will to ours and try to control Him.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways like your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Is that clear? We should never forget the uniqueness of our God. Rather, we should capitalize on it and love every minute we spend in His presence and enjoy His generosity.

In the Gospel of Matthew (20:1-16), we hear Him asking us: “Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” A better translation would be: “do you have an evil eye because I am generous?”

Our Western world is not familiar with the “evil eye”, which is still quite pertinent in all its force among Orientals. It means that if I have the evil eye I want for myself precisely what God gave somebody else; and if I cannot get it, I cast a spell so that the recipient of what I envy may not enjoy it; and God’s wealth of goods may dry up.

Evidently if, every three years, the Church offers to our consideration this unusual parable, it is because she feels that many believers still have the evil eye for the way God treats others less deserving workers in His vineyard. But, are there many of them? I sincerely hope not. And who might those be who fit this mold?

Meditating at length on this parable, I would identify them thus: they are people who do not know how to appreciate gifts, how to enjoy life, how to bask in God’s most generous love and forgiveness and, worst of all, do not know how to love. They do not know how to love God, how to love the other workers in the vineyard, especially those who didn’t break a sweat to earn the same reward they get after a full-day work.

The presence of these loveless members of the community is so distressing to the Church; it is so against God’s ways that Luke was inspired to include in his gospel the incident of the repentant thief (remember?) who got rewarded with paradise after a “work” of just a few minutes before his death. 

Think about it: he “worked” less than an hour, no sweat, no merits, no credits, no good deeds, yet he got “full payment.” Some raise their eyebrows before that page and prefer to play it safe: They try to earn their way to paradise.

It is unfortunate that many of those who were called to work in God’s vineyard from the first hour do not appreciate and enjoy the security of being chosen, of being provided for in body and spirit by the Lord.  They overlook the benefit of being guided by the light of His Word, strengthened by His Sacraments, comforted by His presence, sustained by the faith in action of other believers. They see their faith and their Christian calling as a burden and heaven as a dream world they have to work hard to earn by countless prayers, sacrifices, fasting and religious practices. 

The Church sees their mindset as a travesty of the Gospel, because, not only they often feel miserable but would like also those around them to feel as miserable as they do in living out their Christian calling. They want everyone to sweat for the duration of the workday. They want a just God, not a generous, merciful one. Again, they know how to fear—they do not know how to love.

This is a fallacy; this is thinly disguised spiritual arrogance. In their fearful and loveless lives, they fail to understand that it is impossible to earn anything from the Father’s hands. And, even more tragically, they live with the stubborn delusion that, by executing all the things which they think they ought to do, God will be obligated to grant them salvation. 

They strive for a sort of salvation guarantee.

In striking contrast, St. Paul (Philippians 1:20-24, 27), who got into the vineyard at a much late hour himself, urges us: Only conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

In keeping with the analogy of our parable for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: to be worthy of the Gospel means simply to be deeply convinced that God is free to do as He wishes with “His money.” 

That is exactly what He did 2000 years ago: He paid the full price of salvation for all of His adopted children in the Blood of His Son Jesus. We should realize that when it comes to salvation, we are free to window shop in front of the luxury cars showroom and dream, but then, in our human weakness and spiritual poverty, we could only get ourselves a clunker. No matter how much we might work, we will never do enough to afford to “purchase” our salvation. 

God called us to life without our permission; He will call us in death without our permission and, most importantly, He does as He pleases with salvation, the most unmerited, most unaffordable gift ever. He forgives us our enormous debt; He gives us eternal life, and He will make us like Himself, all for free, under the only condition of being generous in forgiving others from our heart. He is terribly offended by those who try to buy their salvation, and try to merit for themselves the value of Jesus’ Blood.

The only thing He wants in return is for us to cease having an evil eye. 

He expects our trust, our appreciation, our humble gratitude, our admission of having been smothered by His infinite love. As the good Father that He is, He wants us to enjoy life as a continuous gift from Him, to live in harmony with all others, including those of the last hour, those who had to suffer outside His vineyard until the last moment, and be filled with joyous expectations for something incredibly beautiful, eternal and—totally unmerited.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin