Monday, March 7, 2016

Justice versus Mercy

A friend and I were talking yesterday about justice and mercy and how easy it is to feel that justice is better.   It's easy to want things to be fair and for people to get what they deserve.  Especially when I was younger, I felt justice was better.  But I have come to be very thankful for mercy.

I used to be very bothered by the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  See  Matthew 20:1-16 and also see Elder Holland's masterful talk:  The Laborers in the vineyard. It used to seem very unfair to me that some would labor all day and receive the same wages as others who labored for only one hour.  But as I have gotten older, I have come to understand it a little better.  Number one, the "wages" or the end result of our labor will be far more than any of us DESERVE.  Whether we toil in the vineyard (the church and gospel) throughout our lives or for just a short time, we cannot earn our salvation.  It is only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we can repent and gain eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God.  In D&C 84:38 we are taught, "And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him." Those are incredible blessings, worth any price.

In fact, I absolutely love what Sister Reeves said in October conference:

"Sisters, I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful, loving Father, “Was that all that was required?” I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly Father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally. What will it matter, dear sisters, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God with our Father and Savior?"

Now, she was talking about trials and adversity, but I think the same is true for service in the vineyard/kingdom of God.   It is worth whatever effort, challenge, or disappointment we face.  The blessings are greater than our finite minds can comprehend.
Here are a couple of other things that help me feel better about this parable.  First, as Elder Holland points out, it was a blessing and comfort to be laboring in the vineyard all along.  Those who have the gospel and strive to live it throughout their life actually have an easier life.  As Sheri Dew said, "The path of discipleship is actually the easiest path. It is the path that allows us to partake most fully of the Lord's love for us." (Page 67 of her wonderful book Amazed by Grace). There is peace, hope, comfort, strength and joy found as we labor in the vineyard.  So those who labor all day long have added joy, peace, and strength along the way.  Challenges will still come, but we understand the purpose of life and the plan of salvation.  We have heavenly help to guide us.  It is an easier and better path.

As I get older, I have come to recognize something else.  First, I am not a great hired servant.  I do try, but I make a lot of mistakes.  I get lazy or jealous or selfish.  I don't actually deserve the wages being offered to me.  Yes, I may have been hired in the first hour...but I am already in the 6th hour of my life and still far from a great servant.  It is only because of the mercy and grace of the Master that these wages are being offered to me.  No matter how many hours I labor, the reward is still greater than I deserve.  In fact, it is the Master's Son who has done the work that allows me to receive the reward.  Only in and through Him, can I receive the wages.  

We read in Mosiah 2:

20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

(I am reminded of a church video that we owned when I was a teenager about the Prodigal Son.  I was always touched by a scene where the brother who wasn't the prodigal son is sitting at the piano feeling angry at how his brother is being welcomed back.  He says, "But I was the good one.  I was the good one."  His wife chides him and asks what he means and he explains that his brother had made lots of bad choices and there certainly was a difference between his brother's big mistakes and his little ones.  His wife then says something very close to these words:  "The only difference I can see is that one of you is trying very hard to repent and put his life back together and the other one of you is letting pride get in your way."  It may seem to us, at times, like we are the good one but in reality, all of us are in need of repentance.  All of us are in need of the Savior's love, grace and forgiveness.)

The final thing I have come to realize is that I want those I love to all receive these wages.  As others have said, heaven will not be heaven without those I love.  Some that I love are much like me, toiling away imperfectly in the vineyard.  But many that I love are not yet laboring in the vineyard.  Some have not yet had the opportunity to learn about the vineyard (gospel) and accept the opportunity to labor there.  Others have been offered the opportunity to work in the vineyard, and for a variety of reasons have not accepted that opportunity right now.  But for each of them, I hope a day will come when they accept this opportunity and join in the labor.  And if they do, it will bring me great joy and peace to know that their wages can be the same as mine even if they spend only an hour laboring.  If we truly learn to love one another (something I am still working on), then we will want all to receive these wages. 

I am so thankful that Christ's Atonement meets the need for justice so that He can be merciful.  I am in need of His mercy...both daily and eternally.