What a concept, right? The mere thought of it would give some red-blooded, red-state-dwelling Republicans apoplexy. Yet how do I know? Easy. The Bible tells me so. Take for example the Parable of the Day Laborers—my name for it—that Matthew recounts in the 20th Chapter of his Gospel, verses 1-16. (By the way, this passage was read on September 24, 2023, not only in our Episcopal churches but in Catholic and Lutheran ones around the United States that same Sunday. Talk about Ecumenism in action!) Anyway, in this story Jesus tells that the kingdom of heaven resembles a wealthy landowner who goes out to hire day laborers for his vineyard four times in the same day: at 9 a.m., noon, 3 pm, and 5 pm. At the end of the workday, he starts with the last set and ends with the first. Moreover, he gives all the workers the same full-day’s pay. Those who started in the morning and worked through the heat of the day were understandably incensed. Why should those who began their shift in the cool of the evening and worked a mere hour or two get the same pay as them. NO FAIR! In fact, the daylong laborers thought that if the last set got a full day’s pay, the owner would give them much more. Guess again! Knowing the thoughts of the full-day laborers, he said, “…I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Thus, by analogy, the heavenly kingdom seems a place where (a) work takes place but (b) everyone is equally provided for. Heaven is not transactional, where quid-pro-quo reigns supreme. It is rather a “place” where everyone is taken care of. In Marx’s words, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”
Okay, you reply, eyebrows raised. But this is just one instance in the New Testament, an outlier perhaps. In response, let’s look at the early Christian community as the evangelist Luke describes it in Acts 4:32, 34-35. I’ll quote from the NRSV, Catholic Edition: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” And how do we know if God approved of this arrangement? Well, the chapter goes on to tell of a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who kept back some of their proceeds and were struck down by divine lightning (Acts 5:1-6). And to think that we struggle these days to tithe! In this regard, I once asked a politically conservative Lutheran pastor from Minnesota what he made of this passage. His replay: “That was then. This is now.” I wonder, dear reader, what you think.