By Kris Bruun
I spent five days in a silent retreat recently, and somewhere in the middle of my days, I got a new insight on a passage of scripture that I’ve always hated.
The first thing people asked me when I announced that I was going on the retreat, usually in tones of horror, was “Don’t you talk AT ALL?” The silence itself and how it works is probably a topic for another blog, but the short answer to the question is, Yes. Once a day, you meet with a spiritual director, who discusses what you prayed about for the preceding twenty-four hours, and then gives you some direction for the next twenty-four. Outside of that, you (try to) shut up and listen to God.
So, in the middle of my five days, my director pulled out of his tool bag what is usually known as the parable of the workers in the vineyard and assigned it to me. I could have argued about this, but it’s usually a good idea to take what is offered and give the Holy Spirit room to work.
You recall this parable. The foreman went out at the first hour and hired vineyard workers for a day’s wage. But he needed more laborers and so he kept on checking the shape-up area (in Jesus’ day, that would have been the marketplace), throughout the day. To those he hired later, he merely said, “Go to work, and I’ll pay you whatever’s fair.” Grateful for the work, they complied. At the end of the day, the master paid the short-timers first, and he gave them a full day’s pay. When he got to those who had worked a full day, they were upset. They argued that they should get more than those lightweights who had shown up at the end of the day.
I have to admit that I have, in the past, been right in there with the grumblers. I know myself to be a diligent worker at just about anything I take on, and it drove me nuts to think of those slackers getting as much as I got. Usually, I would end up writing the whole story off as one of those scriptural mysteries we aren’t supposed to understand. As Luther said, “Give God the glory and move on.” I couldn’t move on fast enough.
This time, I sat with the story open on my lap and read it through several times, with pauses between each verse and between each reading. I must have been on the fourth or fifth time through when, all of a sudden, all of the pieces rearranged themselves. I almost heard a voice saying, “Kris, you showed up at the eleventh hour.” Oh. Yeah. I guess I did. Then it hit me. If I got what I deserved, it would be less than nothing.
But thankfully, I don’t serve a stingy God. I serve a God who doesn’t deal out pittances in remuneration. I serve a God who is overwhelmingly generous. Whatever I manage to do for my God is enough, sufficient, will earn me full pay even though I don’t deserve it.
I don’t even have to beat myself up for coming to this realization somewhat late in life. So what? God has this eleventh-hour stuff under control. I don’t work for a paymaster who’s anything like me!
The feeling of astonished gratitude that came over me is still with me. It’s like that feeling you get when someone you love says “I love you,” and you hear it maybe for the first time, and you know there’s not one thing you can ever have done in your entire life to deserve the gift you’ve just been given.
I received many other gifts from the Holy Spirit on my retreat. But if this had been the only one, well, as my Jewish brothers and sisters say at Passover, “Dayenu.” That would have been enough.