The generosity of God bears watching
By Shawn Reeves
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 24
Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145:2-3,8-9,17-18,18a; Philippians 1:20c-24,27a; Matthew 20:1-16a
Most of us have routines — behaviors and exercises that we rhythmically fall into. They comfort us and give us a sense of security, a sense of stability. And this is because they are predictable. We know what to expect. We know what needs to go into them. And we know what we get out of them. In other words, they require little risk. And they award precisely what we expect them to.
St. Paul wrote elsewhere about himself and fellow apostles, “We are fools for Christ.” They had consistently elected the course certainly deemed imprudent by the world. They had risked and broken from safe routine, from what their culture would have considered sound and reliable. They had sought the Lord while He could be found and called to Him while He was near. And it led them to a path that seemed like foolishness and absurdity to those who could not look below the surface.
What person in his right mind welcomes death as “gain”? What kind of a man is beleaguered by the choice between going on living and dying and concludes “I do not know which I shall choose”?
He is man who has abandoned the thoughts and expectations of human convention and has begun to think with insight into the thought of God, into what seems as such foolishness to the world. He is a man that has discovered that “to depart this life and be with Christ . . . is far better.” As the passage from Isaiah says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
INJUSTICE OR GENEROSITY?
I would imagine that most of us upon first hearing today’s Gospel had to fight the urge to sympathize with the first laborers, warding off an impulse to rally behind their lot and cause. In respect to human convention and cultural expectation, we are wont to pronounce, “Yes, that seems rather unfair, Jesus.”
“So high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts,” seems the reply.
To the accusation of injustice, the landowner of Jesus’ parable retorts, “Are you envious because I am generous?” They expected the justice of men and, instead, witnessed a glimpse of the generosity of God, a generosity whispered in the first reading’s declaration: “Our God who is generous in forgiving.”
Jesus makes clear the Kingdom of Heaven does not conform to the routines and expectations of human culture and convention. The logic of its generosity transcends them, for “as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways,” announces the Lord.
The landowner went out to seek laborers, and transformation manifests through his generosity. Four times he pursues workers (specific periods that roughly align with standard times of Jewish prayer in Jesus’ time). And in the end the uninvited become “hired,” the “idle” become accomplished workers, and the wageless receive their daily pay.
At every step, generosity was the prime objective of the landowner. Repeatedly he sought more people to be generous with. Constantly he endeavored to enrich the “idle” and unfulfilled, embodying Isaiah’s pronouncement, “Turn to the Lord for mercy.” And while we may sympathize with the expectation of those first told “I will give you what is just” and become tempted to agree with their complaint that they had been, in fact, cheated, their accusation only serves to illustrate that their hearts are still deficient in generosity. They cannot celebrate the tremendous mercy dispensed; they can only linger upon the loss of what was expected.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.