Sunday, September 21, 2008

The illogical superabundance of God’s love

Dear Beloved in Christ

Yesterday afternoon, I gathered with between thirty and forty of our parishioners to clean our yard, here at Sts. Peter and Paul, and get ready for fall. Although, I have to admit, I was a little worried because, when I got here at ten minutes until one, I was alone. I walked around and found the White House open and someone, I’m pretty sure it was Don Johnson, had cut out the pine bushes in front of the White House earlier in the day. So, I decided to walk to the back yard to see what was happening. Again, no one was there but I noticed that there were weeds growing under some of the pine trees. So I walked over and started to pull a few weeds from under one of the trees when I heard the first few parishioners start to show up who had brought a hand saw. Eventually everyone showed up, which allowed for some distribution of labor. Some of us worked on clearing some bricks around the white house that were, at one time, markers for a flower bed. They had become, instead, an obstacle for man and mower alike. Others of us decided to clean out the dead branches of the pine trees so that it would be easier to mow and maintain. I am comfortable using a manual, muscle driven, hand saw. I enjoy it really. I like the feeling of achievement when you get done sawing a dead branch from a tree using a hand saw. But, to paraphrase St. Paul, to me a handsaw is like Christ and a chainsaw is death. I can’t use one because I’m one of the world’s biggest klutzes! So, I let a few of the guys run the chainsaw while I dragged the limbs out from under the tree, onto trucks, and onto the burn pile. I started off full of energy and excitement but, by a couple hours into it, I was exhausted. I remember thinking that I should just leave and go home and read for my class but I hated the idea of leaving people when there was still a lot of work to do.

I think that’s a typical reaction most of us have toward doing a job: don’t quit until the job is complete. We have an unwritten understanding of how to do things that our parents taught us as kids. And, when we see someone who doesn’t do it the way we were taught, we are obliged to let them know that they’ve done something wrong. I think this is a pretty cross-cultural concept: we do things because it’s what we were taught is fair. That’s precisely what workers who have at least put in a ten hour, if not twelve hour, day think when others who haven’t worked as long as they have are getting paid as much as they are. It’s bad business sense. How is this landowner going to get someone to work in his vineyard tomorrow if they know that they can wait until five o’clock in the afternoon and get paid as much as those who start at six in the morning? I imagine, this landowner will soon find that he is paying all his workers a full days pay for an hour of work.

Of course, this isn’t Jesus way of teaching the ten steps toward successful business practices. This is a parable, as we heard in the first sentence, about the Kingdom of God. Some suggest that this is a way for Matthew, who was probably writing to a largely Jewish audience, to emphasize that Gentile Christians are going to receive the same salvation that they are going to receive. They may ask themselves how it is that God has “made them equal to us.” But, God is going to give a similar response to the one given by the landowner in the gospel, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my salvation? Are you envious because I am so generous?”

Sometimes, while talking with people, I’m amazed to hear them doubt the superabundant generosity of God’s forgiveness and love. They see themselves as unworthy of God’s love because of some sin they have committed. And, to be honest, in some ways, shouldn’t we all feel like that? In some ways, we are all more like the later laborers than the earlier ones. Maybe we were born and raised catholic but we don’t always practice the faith. Sometimes, we are down-right un-Catholic in the jokes we tell, the actions we do to one another, or the thoughts we have. But, we sometimes feel like the earlier ones because we know something about someone that doesn’t make them seem all that holy. Maybe you donate your time to some charitable organization and you wonder where your fellow St. Peter and Paul parishioners are as you are volunteering. Or maybe you feel very passionately about an issue involved in the upcoming election and you can’t understand why your fellow Sts. Peter and Paul parishioners would dare vote for the politician that doesn’t support your issue. Before we give up on each other, let us very carefully hear the call of Christ in the gospel who rewards all his faithful equally, despite our weaknesses and let us rejoice at those who were lost who show up late and, nonetheless, get the job done.

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