Sunday, April 14, 2013

Many are called....

Reading through the Book of Matthew, I encountered again the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  You know, the one where the householder hires day laborers who are seeking employment throughout the day, some in the morning, some in the afternoon and others just before evening, to help him with his work.  And then, at the end of the day pays the first ones, as they had agreed, a day's wages and also pays all the other workers the same. And the ones who have been working all day protest at the unfairness of that arrangement.  And the householder's response is, "Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Take that thine is, and go they way:  I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?  Is thine eye evil, because I am good?  So the last shall be first and the first last: for many be called but few chosen."

The commentary I was reading along with the text didn't discuss that last phrase.  So, of course, I started mulling over it.

The same phrase appears in the Doctrine and Covenants:

"Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men..."

Often the "few are chosen" phrase is used in discussions about magnifying callings, or being faithful and and not a slacker in the work of God's kingdom: being a valiant worker as opposed to a slothful servant.  Those discussions may even focus on the hard work of those early morning laborers and lead one to erroneously believe that chosen is what they are.  But such discussions can lead us to miss the main point of the parable.

Last week A. and I talked about the role of personal motivations in our peace of mind or lack thereof.  I told her about an epiphany I had about a decade ago while listening to Kathy Goodness speak in a sacrament meeting.  She said, “The motivation for our work in our church callings should be love of God and love for our fellow men.” 

That sentence struck home for me that day.  As Christ taught, all else hangs on these two principles.  It was a catalyst for me to review my motivations in all the various kinds of work I did, and to change them.

And here, again, in this passage, I am reminded.  The householder is speaking to those early morning workers about their focus on justice and receiving recognition ( "they murmured...saying, "These last have wrought but one hour, and thou has made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.") instead of gratitude for the blessing of being employed that day and able to feed their families.  They focused on comparing their worth and on what they thought was just rather than on the blessing for them and for their fellow workers of having a day with work and good pay.   Which is why the householder asks them,  "Is thine eye evil because I am good?"

Many were called.  They were called throughout the day.  But only some resisted the temptation to measure the experience as fully satisfying only if they were recognized and rewarded for the fact that their labors were longer and harder than that of others; only if their extra efforts were noticed and commended, only if things were "fair".

Diligence doesn't make you chosen.  Working longer and harder than others under more difficult circumstances and harvesting more doesn't make you chosen.  Doing God's work with and wanting recognition or validation, verbal, mental or otherwise, from yourself or from others, for how well and long you've done it actually sabotages choseness. 

Being willing to work, keeping your promises to God ("he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day"), and NOT comparing your work with that of others or needing to be recognized ("aspire to the honors of men") for what you've done above and beyond the work of any others who have been called to work as well is the chosenness that God is calling us to.   

It IS being grateful to work for God and simply happy that your fellow workers are as well.   It is another version of having love and gratitude towards God and a love for your fellow men which unreservedly rejoices in their blessings too.  That, I think, is what being chosen means.

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