When I was a kid growing up in the Willamette Valley, local teenagers and migrant laborers would go out together into the strawberry fields to help with the harvest. This parable, with its setting in the vineyard, describes the emotions of us workers—we wanted a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
When Reinhold Niebuhr wrote glowingly in his diary about small churches in rural communities he admitted that some are “small and mean.” He had in mind the church I was serving. Although it has been nearly 20 years, my memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday. For three years I went to bed every night with knots in my stomach.
The pharoah ordered his Eqyptian supervisors to make the Israelites’ lives “bitter with hard service.” Yet the more the Israelites were oppressed, “the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”
At the heart of the salvation doctrine is the proclamation that our lives and our deaths are in God’s hand; we are loved of God not by our own merit but by God’s gracious initiative toward us. We need not spend our lives in good works in order to be saved but only in grateful response to being so loved.