Monday, September 22, 2008

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Here is my homily for this last week. I like it becasue it is short and to the point. I hope you enjoy it...

Mt 20:1-16a

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

I think it is safe to say that America or Americans hate cheaters!... However, if you are like me sometimes we do not mind bending the rules a little bit just to keep the game interesting… For example, when I’m watching football (You knew I was going to bring football into my homily right?) I do not mind if the ref misses an occasional call as long as it is in favor of the Redskins, God knows they need all the help they can get.
So... In light of this reality, I think I should rephrase my original statement, what I should have said is that what we Americans really dislike is been treated unfairly an unjustly. Why I bring this up? Well, I must confess, that today’s gospel got me a little miffed. I looked at the way this land owner treated His faithful workers, the ones that labored the whole day under the sun and say, How can this be?, If we proclaim that God is a God of justice, how can he behave in such an unfair way? The workers that came late should get less pay, what happened to the ”equal pay for equal work” law????
Now, people like you and me, children of western civilization, have a very developed sense of justice. For us it is very easy to relate to the concept of fairness and justice in part because God created us in his image and resemblance, so we are configured for justice, and in part because we have been conditioned to “play fair”. To be just is to follow the rules… which imply that, we do not have to make any decisions, because the rules are already there, we just have to follow them.
This works fine until we are confronted with the concept of mercy. For us mercy is a more difficult idea to grasp. Mercy breaks the rules, it does not come from applying time tested guidelines but from applying our God given faculties to love and forgive. It is not easy to know how much mercy we should give to those around us. The times in which we find ourselves deciding between been just and been merciful are not easy times. In us justice and mercy are always in conflict.
Luckily, God is not one of us (regardless of what some people like to think) in God there is no conflict between justice and mercy.
The reason why today’s Gospel might cause such strong feelings in some of us is because Jesus uses this parable to present to us the fact that in God infinite justice and infinite mercy reside in perfect harmony.
When we hear the land owner say in the gospel “Am I not free to do what I wish with my own money, are you envious because I’m generous???” what he is saying is that God is never conflicted between mercy and justice, mercy is His to give as He pleases, and when He does, he does it, fairly, even if we do not understand His ways.

If we think that God is unfair when he dispenses His favor and mercy, it might be because we are spending too much time judging God’s actions and too little time judging ourselves. Simply put: In what way God’s generosity to others affect me personally? That promotion that my co-worker received, that vacation that my neighbor took, that toy that my friend have, how does their good fortune affect me?… Let me put it differently, when we hear today’s parable, why is it so easy to feel that the land owner was unfair but so difficult to say: what a lucky Laborer! What a generous master!
When we are confronted with God’s favor to others we should think about how lucky we are to have a God that is this merciful, because if we feel he gives to those who do not deserve, how much more will He give us?! On the other hand… if we were to demand for God to always be just, to always follow the letter of the law, how much space are we giving Him to be merciful?
I want you to think about this last point very carefully because the possibilities are frightening, do we truly deserve all the blessings we have been given? Our country? Our community? The love of our families and good friends? Do we truly think that we deserve the fact that Jesus died on the cross so we could live forever with Him? The fact that we can approach the altar every mass and receive Him? If God were to exercise His divine right to be just, heaven would end up being a very lonely place!
If you disagree with this just think: in the last day, when we all gather together to meet Our Lord, and we stand in front of the heavenly throne, and our lives are revealed for everyone to see, every little action, every thought, every intention, every opportunity to love, to be merciful, all the things that we have done and we have left un-done, what do you think the most common plea that day will be? “God give us justice” or “Lord have mercy”?
My brothers and sisters like I said in the beginning, God has configured us to be just, but he has also configured us to be merciful. The thing is, unlike with justice, in our society and our culture we are not encouraged to be merciful. The only way we can become merciful is by being like God, by imitating the land owner of the parable that gives freely and generously out of the goodness that God has placed within his heart. We become merciful when we can be happy, truly happy for the blessings that others have received and by remembering that the only reason why we should be merciful is because we have received much mercy ourselves. Amen.