Sunday, September 18, 2011

God is generously unfair

"Through the devil's envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it."
Wisdom 2:24


Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Isaiah 55:6-9
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20:1-16a
Sometimes God offends human reason, and he means to do so.
When we hear the parable from today’s Gospel of the workers in the vineyard, it is natural for us to be just as offended as those laborers hired to work in the vineyard at the very beginning of the day. They receive the payment promised to them, but expect more for bearing the day’s burden and heat when they see that others who bore far less receive the same payment.
If we are honest, we may feel the same way when we hear Luke’s Gospel account of the repentant criminal crucified alongside Jesus. He is promised entry into Paradise, the Kingdom of God, despite a life of sin.
That is unfair! If you’ve ever worked with someone who receives the same pay but seems to get away with doing far less than you, then you know how the first laborers in today’s Gospel feel. According to human standards of justice and reason, it is totally unacceptable.
But that is precisely the point. As God says in today’s first reading from Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” God is generous in forgiving beyond all human expectation or sense of justice and reason.
As the landowner (i.e., God) says in today’s parable recounted by Jesus, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
We are being asked to consider something very important, crucial to our very salvation: Do we—deep down—consider ourselves worthy of the Kingdom of God? Do we place demands on God’s mercy? Do we who are “good” feel entitled to God’s mercy, to entrance into the Kingdom, becoming envious when someone less worthy in our eyes receives the same “reward?”
Or are we simply grateful for and responsive to God’s mercy – toward all, even the most “undeserving?”
The Kingdom of God cannot be earned—by anyone. It can’t be done—absolutely impossible. We know this, profess this, but often secretly wish and act as if it were not true, especially in today’s culture of rampant entitlement.
As Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, says in his reflection on this week’s readings: “Not one of us deserves the blessings that God has prepared for us. Our grumbling and lateral gazing often lead to serious resentments that are hard to shake off. All our good works give us no claim upon God. How much less do we have the right to demand, even if we have done everything we ought to do, that we should be honored and rewarded by God in a special manner as if we were such meritorious indispensable persons in his service? The word ‘entitlement’ does not exist in the vocabulary of the Kingdom of God” (Read his excellent reflection in its entirety on http://www.zenit.org/ by clicking here).
If you read all the Gospels closely, this is a very persistent and consistent theme. Consider, for example, the parable in Luke that is well-known as “The Story of the Prodigal Son.” The elder son remains faithful and loyal to his father, while his younger brother acts shamelessly, disgracing his father’s name. But the younger son repents, comes home, and is joyfully greeted by his father, who then throws him a big party! That is unfair! And the older son tells his father so.
The father (i.e., God) tells his older son (i.e., you and me) essentially the same thing as the landowner in today’s Gospel: “My son, everything I have is yours.”
He, too, was invited to join in the feast—to enter the Kingdom of God. But his own resentment prevented him from crossing the threshold. He wasn’t shut out. His envy—a capital sin—prevented him from entering. It was his choice, not that of the father, who begged him to put that aside and come in along with everyone else.
What God is telling us throughout his Word is that the bold sinner who genuinely repents is much closer to the Kingdom of God than those of us who “play it safe” and measure our worthiness against that of others. He asks us to accept the fact that the Good Shepherd will relentlessly pursue the one lost sheep out of a flock of 100 to bring it back to the safety of his fold, where he invites us all.
God’s love is radical. It is relentless. Just as the landowner in today’s Gospel went out not once, not twice, but five times throughout the course of the day to bring more people into his vineyard, so he pursues each one of us. He is crazy in love with us, and wants us to share in his joy and love for us, to come to the banquet, to enter the sheepfold, to go into his vineyard, to cross the threshold of the Kingdom which penetrates our hearts—they all mean the same thing.
God's love is not stingily measured out.

It is absurdly abundant, excessively extravagant, and garishly generous.

His kisses are wet and sloppy (cf. Luke 15:20)!
And God’s love also is unfair according to our standards of measuring up. All are called, but few are chosen. Those left standing outside the Kingdom of God are there through their own choice.
So we need to reflect on the question from today’s Gospel:
“Are YOU envious because I am generous?”
If we truly accept God’s lavish generosity toward ourselves and others, then—and only then—can we live as St. Paul asks us in today’s second reading: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
And it is a Gospel of generosity—unfairly so.

Let us take what is ours through God's generosity, and live it just as unfairly.

2 comments:

  1. I like the mix of reflections you have been posting, Br. Francis. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    ReplyDelete