One summer, I worked for a local bottling company. Every day, I would show up and wait for the machine operator to start cranking out two-liter bottles of America’s favorite soft drinks. Bottle after bottle, case after case, truckload after truckload ran onto a circling stainless steel platform waiting for me to grab them, stuff them in a box, stack the boxes onto a pallet, and wave for the forklift driver to take the full pallet away. I stacked a lot of boxes in shifts that lasted anywhere from eight to twelve hours a day, six days a week.
America, at least my little part of it, drank a lot of soft drinks.
I worked with a long-time employee named Lionel. Lionel was a tall, strong man who handled cases of two-liter soft drinks with one hand. He was quiet, and he showed up and worked hard every day. Lionel had a simple philosophy of life. Take care of your business and stay out of everybody else’s business. If you asked about the latest gossip, he would shake his head and say that he hadn’t heard anything about whatever you were talking about, and because it wasn’t his business, he wouldn’t be listening.
I, on the other hand, was a talkative young man. I wanted to know about everything. Did you know the formula for the soft drink? How many bottles a day could we put out? How many cases could we stack one on top of the other before they fell over?
Most of the time, my questions and musings would be met by Lionel’s smirk and a simple, “Shut up, college boy, and get back to work.”
Other times, he would shrug his shoulders and say, “That’s above my pay grade,” and he wouldn’t say anything else except, “Get back to work.” Everything, it seemed, was above Lionel’s pay grade and if it was above his pay grade, he didn’t worry about it. In fact, he didn’t give anything that was above his pay grade a second thought. For him, there was his family, his neighborhood (he had lived there since he was a boy), his church (he loved his bishop), and the product on the pallet in front of us.
That was it. Everything else was above his pay grade.
I think of Lionel from time to time, and I marvel at how long it’s taken to me to learn Lionel’s simple philosophy of a good life.
You see, that talkative young college student has never lost his curiosity about finding the ingredients to secret formulas, and how high things can be stacked before they fall over. I wonder why there is so much evil in the world and why children get sick. I want to know why some people seem to get away with some stupid decisions while others spend the rest of their lives paying for them.
I want to know what makes life worth living and what things are like when you die. I want to know a lot of things…
…and every one of them is above my pay grade.
I’m not the only person who asks questions that are above their pay grade. Once, Peter wanted to know what was going to happen to John and Jesus said, in so many words, “That’s above your pay grade. Now, get back to work.” That, of course, is my very loose Southern translation, but it captures the gist of Jesus’ conversation with Peter.
And it captures a lot of Jesus’ conversations with me. “That’s above your pay grade. Now, get back to work.”
While I’m pondering the existence of evil, I overlook the wounded person right in front of me. What’s more evil – the dark power that caused the wound or the casual darkness that keeps me from seeing the wounded person?
While I’m pondering the causes of world hunger, why don’t I feed the hungry who live in my own town?
Sometimes, I think we hide behind these unsolved mysteries to keep us from engaging in the real opportunities of ministry right in front of us. Why? Because talking about the great questions is a lot easier than dealing with real people in a real community.
We can talk about humanity’s inhumanity.
We can blame the Republicans.
We can blame the Democrats.
And we can go home feeling justified by the intense discussions we’ve had. If you talk long enough and passionately enough, it almost feels like work. Yet, nothing really changed.
But as Lionel would remind me, there’s a pallet to fill right in front of me. There are cases to fill and trucks to load. That’s what I was hired to do. Everything else is above my pay grade.
There are lost people who need to be brought home.
There are wounded people who need to be bandaged.
There are angry people who need to be heard.
There are those who’ve been abandoned who need to be rescued.
That’s what I was called to do. That’s what you were called to do. Everything else is above our pay grade.
For whatever reason, Christ has trusted me with this little part of His world. That’s all. So, it’s back to work.
We’ll just have to learn to trust Jesus with everything that’s about our pay grade.
And everything else is above our pay grade.