As I was listening to the April General Conference in 2019, there was one word that really jumped out at me—qualify.
I first heard it in Elder Dale G. Renlund’s talk, Abound with Blessings, when he said:
You do not earn a blessing—that notion is false—but you do have to qualify for it.
Shortly afterwards, I heard it again in President Russell M. Nelson’s talk, “Come, Follow Me,” when he said:
So, what is required for a family to be exalted forever? We qualify for that privilege by making covenants with God, keeping those covenants, and receiving essential ordinances.
What is the difference between earning and qualifying?
My answer didn’t come until several months later when I came across the talk Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
In his talk, Elder Holland recounts the Savior’s parable in Matthew 18:23-35:
23 ¶ Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
In Understanding the Parables of Jesus, Jay and Donald Parry explain that in Jesus’ day “10,000 talents equaled 100,000,000 denarii [Roman currency]. One denarius was a typical day’s wage for a common laborer.”
In other words, it would take a common laborer 100,000,000 days of labor to pay the debt (that’s the equivalent of 273,973 years).
Of this Elder Holland adds:
As a personal debt, that is an astronomical number—totally beyond our comprehension. (Nobody can shop that much!) Well, for the purposes of this parable, it is supposed to be incomprehensible; it is supposed to be beyond our ability to grasp, to say nothing of beyond our ability to repay. That is because this isn’t a story about two servants arguing in the New Testament. It is a story about us, the fallen human family—mortal debtors, transgressors, and prisoners all. Every one of us is a debtor, and the verdict was imprisonment for every one of us. And there we would all have remained were it not for the grace of a King who sets us free because He loves us and is "moved with compassion toward us." Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost.
The dots finally connected.
Earning and qualifying both require effort on our part, but the difference is when we earn something, we can pay the full price for it, whereas when we qualify for something, what we receive is greater than what we earned.