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All are welcome — early or late

SHARE All are welcome — early or late

I made it to the Johnston family reunion last Saturday. I was late, but I made it.

And no one was upset because I didn't get there on time.

In fact, to a person, they were pleased to see me. They smiled. They offered me some chicken. They didn't shun me because they arrived early and I had the nerve to wander in at the last minute.

It made me think of the parable about the vineyard owner — the one who paid his workers a penny a day. Some workers he hired in the morning, some in the afternoon, some in the evening. But at the end of the day, each one got a full penny. Those who had worked a full day groused about it. They thought they should get more. But the boss told them they shouldn't be upset; they shouldn't let their evil eyes undermine the good he was doing.

Among other things, I see that as a lesson in relationships. Good people feel such affection for others that they are always happy to see them, whenever they arrive — late or early. We cut our families slack. And in a better world, everyone would be treated as family.

The parable is telling us to put "affection" above "fairness" in life.

The same message shows up in the Prodigal Son. The dad there is just happy to have his children home. He doesn't care who got there first or last. The important thing is they got there. When the older son gets miffed because he'd been home all along, the father tries to explain.

In essence, he tells the boy "put affection above fairness."

When I arrived late for the family reunion, my relatives would have been justified for being annoyed I wasn't there to set up the tables and get things ready. I didn't do a lick of work. I strolled in at the 11th hour and took advantage of everything.

But they weren't annoyed. They were just happy I got "home."

Heaven is a family reunion where the late-comers are celebrated as much — or even more — than the early arrivers. If we want to know how things function in heaven, we only have to watch how caring families function As the "good book" says, no caring father on Earth would hand his son a stone if the boy came asking for bread. The joy comes from the fact the boy bothered to come to his dad at all.

In the end, maybe all of us spend too much time worrying about justice and not enough time worrying about each other. There has to be be a reckoning at some point, I suppose. Mercy can't rob justice and all. But sorting things out — separating the sheep from the goats — isn't our job.

Our job is to nourish the sheep.

And if mercy robs justice in our own personal lives, well, so be it. Let it rob away. In our relationships, we should give mercy a license to steal.

Anyway, I'm happy the Johnston clan had that attitude last Saturday. The idea of shunning a family member for bad behavior never occurs to the Johnstons. If it did, we'd all be outcasts. Some of us have been saints. Some of us have been rascals, rounders and renegades. But at our reunions, we're all just part of the stew.

And, lucky for me, nobody cares when you get there. I'd hate to ask Uncle Elwood or Cousin Lyle for a slice of bread and have them hand me a stone.

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com