The Gospel for the 25th Sunday through the Church Year has us meditating on Matthew 20:1-16. You know the Gospel narrative where the last worker gets the same wage as those who toiled all day; some are angry at the landowner –the analogy is that we are really angry at God’s generosity. The logic of God is not the logic of man. Too often we say that we want to be like God, to act like Jesus, be as merciful as our Heavenly Father. I don’t doubt this is a true desire of our heart but haven’t really seen sustained examples of putting words into action. I do believe, however, many strive and honestly wrestle with the idea we need and desire God’s uncompromising and generosity and look for ways to employ Divine Revelation: this is the journey of faith: we in process of becoming what we are meant to be by the Blessed Trinity.
A patristic reflection from St. Gregory the Great: “The householder said to them, ‘I wish to give to this last one as I give even to you.’ And since the obtaining of his kingdom comes from his goodwill, he properly adds, ‘Or am I not allowed to do what I wish?’ It is always foolish to question the goodness of God. There might have been reason for loud complaint if he did not give what he owed but not if he gives what he does not owe.”
One of the monks at St Joseph’s Abbey (Spencer, MA) wrote the following of the Gospel:
It is that in the final scene of today’s Gospel when the foreman doles out the pay that we are witness to the extravagant compassion of the landowner, (a cipher for the extravagant mercy of our God.) All the workers, even the last ones who worked for only one measly hour, receive a denarius. Aware of their need and the desperation of their situation; the landowner knows that less than a denarius will be not enough for a man and his family for a day. And he wants them all to go home happy and satisfied. Now that’s not fair; it’s excessive. But if we were part of that last crowd who had worked for only an hour, we’d be overjoyed at the landowner’s outlandish generosity.
How often I murmur because things aren’t fair. And true enough it’s the constant plea of psalmist and prophet, “Why is it Lord that the way of the wicked prospers? Why is it that you let the sun and rain and all good things come to the just and the unjust?” It’s not fair. But the good news is God’s Kingdom is not about fairness or entitlement, only mercy; never about “confidence” in my own accomplishments or sacrifices.* It’s not ever about rewards but grace- not something earned but a gift freely given in love. My brothers and sisters, God is not fair. He is abundantly, incomprehensibly merciful, way beyond our imagining. He knows we don’t always do enough, don’t always pull our weight or labor long and hard enough, that sometimes I loaf and dawdle and wait too long and make bad decisions. He sees it all, and he is merciful. It doesn’t mean that everything’s always OK, not at all. No, I mess up, and God is merciful. I am unkind, impatient, stingy, and God is merciful and gives me another chance.
Imagine if God were only fair. Imagine if he gave me what I really deserve. I’d be in big trouble. Certainly God looks into our hearts and notices the good we do, but the kingdom is all about his mercy, never payback for a job well done. It is on the contrary completely, utterly, totally gift. Gratuitous, absolutely surprising, way beyond what I am “entitled to.” Simple gratitude is the only response. For what do we have that we have received? No, God is not fair, but all loving, all giving, all forgiving. We’re all latecomers and God is always switching things around. It’s called mercy. And Jesus invites us this morning not to succumb to jealousy, to literally “having a wicked eye” which will not allow us to see clearly as God sees.