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The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2017

 

     Today’s gospel parable is probably no one’s favorite. Not mine, anyway. For me, it conjures up a long litany of life’s injustices. I think, for instance, of the physical fitness zealot who might miss a meal but never a workout, and whose daily regimen would rival that of an Olympics athlete. He’s the one, of course, who gets diagnosed with coronary artery disease while his beer drinking, burger eating, overweight couch potato friend gets a clean bill of health. Where’s the justice!

     Or I think back to school days, to the classmate who seldom studied, was invariably late turning in assignments, did nothing more than glance casually over the material the night before finals, and then aced the exam, ruining the curve for the rest. Again, where’s the justice!

     Then there’s the classic case of the one who all his life long manages to drink deeply and liberally of all life’s pleasures – including the forbidden ones – and then has this marvelous photo-finish, deathbed conversion right at the end, complete with candles, holy oils, solemn anointing and final absolution.  Where’s the justice!

     That’s the question raised by today’s parable.  Where’s the justice?  Most of us, I think it’s fair to say, find ourselves in sympathy with those poor laborers of the parable who bore the burden of the day’s sweltering heat, working their fingers to the bone from dawn to dusk.  Our sense of justice and right order is seriously violated when those late comers, who probably whiled away their day in the shade, snoozing or maybe even boozing, are paid as if they, too, had worked all day long.  Where’s the justice?

     And, you know, I think Jesus wanted us to react this way.  I think he told this parable for precisely that reason -- to shake us up and offend our sensibilities.  I think he told this parable to wake us up to the message we heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah – that “God’s ways are not our ways, nor are God’s thoughts our thoughts.”  The parable of the eleventh hour laborers is a perfect illustration of that difficult yet essential bit of biblical wisdom.

     God’s ways can be described by one word, one deceptively simple word which we’re quite good at misunderstanding. The word is grace. With God, all is grace.  With God, there is really no such thing as earning. Or put it this way: earning is itself God’s gift. The generosity of God – the mysterious and almost scandalous generosity of God – that’s what this parable is about. There is nothing we have that is not God’s generous gift – beginning with life itself, and including everything we have: our talents, our personalities, our family and friends; our job, our possessions, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the flowers in our garden, the sun and moon and stars in the sky. And, of course, our faith, too, and the good works we do, and even our desire to do them.  Everything is God’s gift!

     And so, while we busy ourselves with careful calculations down to the last decimal point about what we have coming to us because of all we’ve done - the Masses we’ve attended, the homilies we’ve endured(!), the sacrifices we’ve made, the checks we’ve written – God, it seems, is having a wonderful time of doing what God does best: giving freely – almost recklessly – whenever, and wherever, and to whomever He wills.  God, it seems, doesn’t pay a lot of attention to our mathematics or to our carefully calculated balance sheets.

     Now, I don’t know about you, but something in me likes the merit system better. It seems so much more dependable, more predictable, more just. But when I remember my own sins and shortcomings – and recall that I really have no way of knowing what’s going on in the lives of others – then it’s probably best to let God’s grace have the last word, after all!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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