25TH Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
My Ways are Not Your Ways
As we enter into this sprinkling rite this morning, we prepare ourselves to be transformed by the Word we will hear today. During this Season of Creation until Oct. 5 let us begin by looking at what creation teaches us about forgiveness.
The forgiving earth swallows up again and again the filth and pollution of our industries and our carelessness and our greed and brings forth fresh vegetation, regenerating the air and landscape. Streams and rivers cleanse themselves of our wastes, and rains continually wash our world clean again. It is not because our mess is left to lie there that we know the creator’s forgiveness, but precisely because nature challenges our destruction and our wasteful ways, and constantly strains to repair the consequences.
We could all tell our own version and experience of today’s parable. We know people who, in our not so humble opinion, neither earned nor deserved what they got; it could be a job, a promotion, a recognition, a permission, an excuse, special treatment, a success etc. That we worked longer and tried harder seemed to make no difference. More often than not, we view the world, ourselves and others through the lens of fairness rather than grace, the exact opposite of how God views the world and our lives.
We’ve been taught from an early age that fairness matters. Watch a bunch of children play and it won’t be long before you hear someone say, “That’s not fair!” But it is not just children. Adults want fairness too. Too often, however, fairness rather than love, acceptance, mercy, forgiveness, or generosity is the measure by which we act and judge another person or life situation.
What happens when divine goodness and generosity trump human fairness? You get today’s parable. “These last ones worked only an hour. (They didn’t even work up a sweet.) And you made them equal to us who bore the day’s burden and heat.” Today’s parable suggests that wages and grace stand in opposition to each other. Grace is dangerous. It reverses business as usual. “So, the last shall be first and the first will be last.” That’s not how a wage based, a balance sheet logic, earn what you get society works. The world says the last are last and the first are first because they deserve it. It’s what is fair. Our understanding of fairness, however, does not seem to have priority in the kingdom of heaven where grace is the rule not the exception.
Grace looks beyond our productivity, our appearance, our dress, our race, our ethnicity, our social status, our accomplishments, our failures. Grace recognizes there is more to you and who you are, than what you have done or left undone.
Grace reveals the goodness of God. Wages reveal human effort. Grace seeks unity and inclusion. Wages make distinction and separate. Grace just happens. Wages are based on merit. The only precondition of grace is that we show up and open ourselves to what God is giving. When we do, we begin to see our lives, the world, our neighbor differently.
Grace reminds us that we are not nearly as self-sufficient, deserving, or independent as a wage based, balance sheet logic, earn what you get society would like us to believe. Neither is our worth determined by our productivity or usefulness to another. Grace does not justify or excuse discrimination, unfairness, or oppression. To the contrary. It holds before us the truth that each person is more than their behavior, their looks, their accomplishments., or their failures.
Jesus tells us the Good News is that the Kingdom of God is like the landowner. Jesus assures us that God is not into reward and punishment, a wage-based life, balance sheet logic, earn what you get. As the first reading put it: My ways are not your ways. God relates in love. Jesus reveals to us that the essence of God is love, infinite, unconditional love – all the time toward everyone. For God, to be is love. God cannot be otherwise. It is not just that God loves. God is love. God cannot give a bit of himself to me, another bit to you, a bigger bit to Pope Francis, and none at all to whomever it is I don’t like.
More than that. God’s love is like a giant vacuum cleaner, in the sense that, to the extent that we let it, it draws us into itself, into the flow, as Richard Rohr would say. ‘Til then, God makes no sense. But, if we let it in, God’s love transforms us and gradually we come to see people no longer as threats but as sisters and brothers. Envy gives way to openness, to sharing, to hoping, to joy.
Let’s go back now to the nature image with which we began this Eucharist. We can presume that nature will continue to provide us fresh vegetation, clean air and water as long as she can whether we deserve it or not. But if we refuse to allow her to challenge our wasteful and destructive ways, she may reach a point when she can no longer repair the consequences.
So how do we move forward transformed by today’s word? How do we move forward from a wage-based life, balance sheet logic, earn what you get fairness mentality to the vineyard of grace? Stop comparing yourself and your life to others and you will create room for grace to emerge. Refuse to compete in such a way that someone must lose for you to win. Trust that in God’s world there is enough for everyone. Let go of expectations based on what you think others deserve. Give God the freedom to pay what is right knowing that God’s ways are not our ways. Make no judgments of yourself or others. That is the way of grace, the way of God — letting go of competition, comparison, expectation, and judgment.