Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Matthew 20: 1-16
Imagine the rage in Hell when a sinner escapes into the arms of God at the last moment. He has laughed at God, ignored Him, perhaps even denied His existence, and then on his death bed he eagerly receives the Last Rites and repents with tears and a humble heart. Being creatures of the everlasting now that is eternity, time must seem strange to the fallen angels we know as demons. For us Men time is as natural to us as water to a fish, but to demons it must seem very strange indeed. Even stranger is our ability while in time to change our minds. The Fallen Angels gave their allegiance to Lucifer in eternity and for them there is no repentance, no changing of mind, just as unfallen angels would never waiver in their allegiance to God.
Being creatures of time and of limited intellects, with a brief mortal life, we are ever learning and changing, for good or ill. The striking imagery of Christ mirrors the way in which the gift of Faith can come at us in so many different periods of our lives, with all receiving the sublime reward of eternal salvation. The Good Thief, with his last moment faith in Christ, is striking evidence that while there is life there is ever hope from our merciful God.
It is my personal belief that God extends to us each a rope of salvation when our end is coming near, perhaps especially to those of us farthest from Him, if we only have the wit to grasp it. May we all have a Happy Death and meet in the Kingdom of Love Eternal after our allotted time here below is done. However let us not presume upon the mercy of God. Let us go to confession, repent in humility and be ever prepared for our day in the vineyard of the Lord to come to a sudden close. May we experience what CS Lewis so movingly depicts in the conclusion of his The Screwtape Letters:
The more one thinks about it, the worse it becomes. He got through so easily! No gradual misgivings, no doctor’s sentence, no nursing home, no operating theatre, no false hopes of life; sheer, instantaneous liberation. One moment it seemed to be all our world; the scream of bombs, the fall of houses, the stink and taste of high explosive on the lips and in the lungs, the feet burning with weariness, the heart cold with horrors, the brain reeling, the legs aching; next moment all this was gone, gone like a bad dream, never again to be of any account. Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous? I know what the creature was saying to itself! “Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?
As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange. He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not “Who are you?” but “So it was you all the time”. All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories. The dim consciousness of friends about him which had haunted his solitudes from infancy was now at last explained; that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered. Recognition made him free of their company almost before the limbs of his corpse became quiet. Only you were left outside.
He saw not only Them; he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. You would like, if you could, to interpret the patient’s prostration in the Presence, his self-abhorrence and utter knowledge of his sins (yes, Wormwood, a clearer knowledge even than yours) on the analogy of your own choking and paralysing sensations when you encounter the deadly air that breathes from the heart of Heaven. But it’s all nonsense. Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure. All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door. He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed.