25th Sunday in O.T. (A); Sept. 24, 2017
Is 55:6-9 Ps 145 Phil 1:20c-24 Mt 20:1-16a
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
Sometimes Jesus just doesn’t seem fair. The parable of the Day Laborers evokes the sense of getting ripped off. That’s why is it probably the least liked parable that Jesus ever told because it really offends our sense of justice. Those who work at the beginning, middle, and end of the day all get the same pay. More to it, the guys who were hired last, not only get paid what those who worked all day, but they get to go to the head of the line. This does not make any sense!
Many years ago I used to umpire baseball—anywhere from Little League, high school ball, to adult leagues. On weekends, I’d often work double-headers, which during the months of July and August could be brutal. If someone appeared in the last inning of the second game and collected the same payment that I did who toiled in the heat all day and got paid first (!), I’d be really peeved. My gut response would be this is outrageously unfair.
So, this parable really bothers me, which is a very good indication that it is working on me and, I suspect, on most of us. Jesus is trying to assault our senses—what our sense of justice and righteousness are. Then we hearken to the first reading from the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is 55:8).
Ouch! Our thoughts are not God’s because we act out of prejudices and assumptions that are getting in God’s way. So, we ask ourselves “Why does this parable get under our skin?” We look around the world and we ask, “Why do the wicked, self-absorbed people seem to prosper?” On the other hand, “Why do good descent people seem to suffer?” Emerging from the Great Recession of 2008, for example, many people lost their homes and had their retirement funds gutted. We asked ourselves “Why were those responsible for the debacle not punished, but instead bailed out and even rewarded with bonuses!?” Given these complaints, sometimes we catch ourselves thinking, “God, if I were you, I’d so things a lot differently.” Why? Things just seem so unfair and aren’t you a God of justice?
The rejoinder to our grievance is contained in the second punchline: What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous”(Mt 20:16-17). Truth be told, yes, we are envious because “your thoughts are not my thoughts.” This parable bothers us because we are upset by God’s magnamnity, his abundant generosity, which seems so naïve and so unrealistic.
Brothers, God is operating out of a higher sense of justice than we’re accustomed. Rather than focus on a tit-for-tat sense of justice “you do this for me, I’ll do that for you,” let us keep our focus on the Great Giver who presides over the whole cosmos, who knows every hair of your head, who knows when you sit and stand. And, who knows how to apportion his gifts properly. All that Jesus wants for you is for your joy be full. And, that happens when you open your heart to his merciful love and forgiveness. Unlike us, God is not going to wait for you to get your act together, he’s not going to demand that you work in the vineyard all day long before you get renumerated. No, He just want to give you all that He is right here and now and it doesn’t matter to Him whether you just arrived in the vineyard. The key is whether you are willing to accept what God wants to give you right here and now. And, to do that, you’re called to surrender your whole heart and soul to the Lord.
We struggle to do so because we have a warped sense of justice which is based on the false claim that we can really save ourselves–that we are the architects of our own happiness. If we work hard, play by the rules, then God will be compelled to reward us. Brothers, that is not holiness. We may feel great about ourselves when we work hard and are successful, but that’s more about us and not about God. Rather, it is those who trust with the most vulnerable heart, those who become the little ones who can enter into communion and fellowship because they operate as God does: they live according to self-gifting love. That’s what the Kingdom of God is about.
So, is the Lord acting unjustly? Yeah, from our narrow perspective, He is. But, as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is God’s vision above our vision. The idea is to die to our old, self-justifying consciousness and to lean into God’s vision so that we can see reality from his perspective. And, then we will have a revolutionized sense of what true justice is. And, then we will live out of gratitude and not resentment. Out of all the relationships we have, Who is the one who is relating to us 24/7 out of immeasurable love, generosity, and fairness? The One Whose image were made. Let us do the same. Amen.