The Reward of a Good Life

April 2, 2010

The Reward of a Good Life

Two brothers embraced faith together at an early age. One of the brothers took his commitment very seriously and wrestled diligently with the scriptures. When he became a man he gave up all of his worldly possessions and went to live in the poorest and most dangerous area of the city. Many of his friends deserted him, and, because of his uncompromising dedication to the oppressed he lost the one woman he truly loved, forsaking the possibility of marriage for the sake of his work.

The pain of this separation haunted him all his days. Because of the conditions in which he lived, he was frequently ill. When he died, no one was present, and only a handful of people showed up for his funeral.

In contrast, the other brother never took his faith seriously at all. As a men he became very settled, satisfied, and intellectual. He married the woman he loved, had many children, and lived in a beautiful home. As his satisfaction grew, his thoughts of God dissolved to nothing. He gave little to charity, unless it was prudent to do so for the sake of his reputation, and he paid little heed to those who suffered around him. After a long, happy, and successful life, he died in the arms of his loving wife with his children surrounding him.

In heaven God called the two brothers before him, embraced them both warmly, and to each gave an equal share of the kingdom.

As one might expect, the brother who had been faithful all his years was surprised– he had given up everything to live what turned out to be a tortuous life of hardship.

However, his surprise was a joyous one. He turned to his brother, smiled deeply, and said, “Today my joy is finally complete, for we are together again. Come, let us break bread together.” In response, his brother said nothing, but began to weep over the wasted life he had led.

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What’s fair?

When people speak of heaven and eternal rewards, they tend to couch things in the language of “justice.” What is fair reward for a person at the end of their life. Christians tend to insist that the mercy shown to them at the end of things is indeed fair, because even though they themselves are not worthy of grace, Jesus has made up the difference. But what if God is even more unfair than that? These two brothers started down the road of faith together, but parted ways part way through.

When they died and encountered each other again, instead of expressing what we may think is a just grievance, “But God, I was faithful all my life. He abandoned your ways for a life of comfort!” the faithful brother expressed relief. The long life of faith had engendered in him a love of people that was irreducible to “fairness.” There’s nothing fair about loving someone; in fact love can often be seen contravening fairness. Love is something that is not bound by ideas of justice and fairness– it is above and beyond these ideas. And if the greatest commandments are to Love God and Love people, then should it surprise us at all that a life spent trying to bring about transformation in one’s life and the world would result is a reordering of priorities?

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