Rejoice at God’s generosity, kindness

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  • September 7, 2011

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Sept. 18 (Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145; Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16)

An ancient Greek philosopher once observed wryly that if horses could draw they would draw gods that looked like horses. Or put another way — God created humans in God’s image and humans returned the favour.

The God that we believe we worship is often something of our own creation or projection, looking and acting suspiciously like us. But through the prophets God reminds us very forcefully that God is utterly unlike humans. God’s “ways of thinking” and God’s ways are not merely an extension of our own but of a completely different order. How often we hear from people what God wants, thinks, likes or will do in the immediate future. This is more often than not a projection of the speaker’s prejudices and opinions and those of the group to which he or she belongs. Isaiah urges people to seek God while He is still near so that they can encounter this totally other God.

 

Not that God is going anywhere or playing hide-and-seek, but when we ignore opportunities to step away from our familiar way of understanding God and deepen our spiritual awareness it becomes more and more difficult and unlikely to happen. Jesus revealed God to human understanding and it was — and still is if we are truly listening — shocking. God is impartial and plays no favourites. God is merciful and compassionate to both the just and the wicked and makes no distinction between people. God does not belong to any person or group and is not confined by any human boundaries or labels. God is not harsh or punishing. And when we encounter and truly understand this God we can truly forsake our wicked (ignorant) ways and return to the Lord.

Paul seems overly eager to depart this world and be with the Lord. Having encountered the Risen Christ everything in this world seemed pale in comparison. But at the same time Paul realizes that our life with the Lord is inseparable from a life of service on Earth. Length of life is not important, only quality, and quality means one that is spiritually fruitful. If only we spent half as much time, money and energy on this as we do prolonging physical life and youthful appearance.

If we needed any further proof that God’s ways are utterly unlike our own the parable of the workers in the vineyard should do the trick. It is perhaps one of the most disturbing parables in the New Testament and it is meant to be. It offends our sense of fairness or equity. It might have a particular poignancy in our own difficult economic times and the high rate of unemployment. In describing the strange parallel world of God’s kingdom, Jesus relates a story of a vineyard owner who hires day workers from the marketplace. We see some of that today — just drive by a home builder’s supply store and there are men standing around hoping to be hired for the day. The owner went out and hired several workers during the day at the same daily wage, bringing the final group on board just an hour before quitting time. The ones hired last were paid off at the usual daily wage and those who had been working in the heat all day long expected that they would get more — and who can blame them! But that was not the case for they were given exactly the same wage, much to their disappointment and rage. The owner’s defense: it’s my vineyard, I can pay what I want and I can be as generous as I please. Everyone is treated the same.

The parable confounds our expectations of God and God’s realm. There is no quota system, priority or seniority list, special privileges or preferential treatment. All who respond to God’s call are blessed equally — those who have walked a spiritual path their entire life and those whose life has been chaotic and disastrous but touched by grace. No human being has a claim on God or any leverage with the divine. We should rejoice at God’s generosity and kindness rather than feel cheated or resentful.

Let us never be too certain about knowing God’s intentions or ways, and we should be a bit suspicious of a vision of God that bears an eerie resemblance to ourselves.

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