Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year
18 September 2011
My dear friends,
There is a wisdom which teaches us : we get what we work for; if we want something, we must earn it; we get what we pay for; we are rewarded according to our efforts. This is the normal pattern of things and what we consider to be justice in action. In general we appreciate this kind of balance in the distribution of good things and we would feel most uncomfortable if our world of values was threatened by anyone who might turn them upside down. Yet we would admit that some of the most precious experiences of life such as being loved by another human being is not entirely something we earn but depends largely on the mysterious choice and generosity of the other.
The world of the Gospel is peopled by many who have to live with handicaps. There are the physically crippled, the psychologically crippled, and the economically crippled. There are prodigal sons, outcasts, people who are overlooked and many who are ignored or shunned. Jesus has a decided leaning in their favour and he keeps reminding us that God’s ways are not always our ways. He does not always act from the balance of the scales but from the fullness of the heart.
There are many people who don’t seem to have a lot going for them. They don’t inherit the property and never seem to have the first choice of anything. Others appear smarter, harder working, preferred by parents, acknowledged by their peers and always look to be more likely to marry the princess and inherit the wealth. It’s strange in ways but we all like to hear the story of the David’s of this world, the underdogs who defy all the odds and come out on top. Their success may not relate to a heavy work schedule. Their may be an element of good fortune in it and it may be the result of the graciousness and generosity of others.
To-day’s Gospel story is not about justice although it does emphasise that no injustice was done. It is rather a story about generosity. “Are you envious because I am generous?” That is the key question. The eleventh-hour workers may not have been idlers who did not want to work. They may have been the left-overs, the rejects. The idea that any employer would take these people on at the eleventh hour and pay them a full day’s wage was unthinkable. Yet this is what the owner of the vineyard did. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s generosity goes beyond our measuring standards.
The parable was directed at the Pharisees who were critical of Jesus because he befriended sinners. The answer they received was that God is generous and full of compassion for the poor and the outcast. God deals with us in ways that differ from our usual dealings with one another. The goodness of God may be a great comfort to us but it is also a challenge because we are called to imitate it. We may need a conversion of the heart to manage that. If we allow God to touch our hearts and warm them with his love, we can begin to love in our turn. Then we will truly experience what God is when he tells us that God is love. If we open our hearts to God’s generosity and experience it then it will serve as a model for our dealings with others.
+Liam S. MacDaid