The Kingdom is one of Justice

Today’s Gospel tugs at our sense of “fair play.” We are all familiar with the concept of fairness. From an early age, we learn what “fairness” is all about. Soon after the words “No!” and “Mine!” we all learn that marvelous phrase, “It’s not fair!” As parents, we have all heard it from our children, I heard it frequently from my own daughters even though they knew what I would say to them in response, “Life’s not fair, so deal with it.

Workers in the vineyard

Our sense of fairness is most keen when we believe that we are the victims of an injustice. Or when we feel someone is treated more favorably. How many of us have felt someone treated us unfairly or favored another over us? All of us have endured some hurt when our dreams are dashed or ambitions denied. Preferred treatment can lay the foundation for many bitter memories.

But Jesus isn’t speaking about fairness; rather he is telling us that the kingdom of heaven is one of justice. And, there is a very real difference between the two.

Fairness is based upon self-interest. When we insist upon our rights without regard to the needs of others, we are focusing on ourselves to the exclusion of others. How can God reward us when we insist upon making ourselves “Number One?

Justice, however, is based upon the needs of others. When we focus upon the needs of others, even if they encroach upon our rights, we sacrifice ourselves for the Kingdom, just as Jesus did.

The men who had worked all day received a normal day’s wages.  But they believed that the men who had worked less than they should receive less, particularly those who had worked only one hour.  Yet they received the same amount.  Those who had worked the longest complained because they felt that they had been treated unfairly.

We have a tendency, as the parable aptly illustrates, to covet and to be resentful of what others receive from God. The owner of the vineyard asks those who have worked the longest and (presumably) the hardest for him, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” The point is that God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness are God’s to give away as God sees fit.

God tells us that “… my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” God is more than just to us; God is generous.  God is generous in opening the doors of his kingdom to all who will enter, both those who have labored a life-time for him and those who come at the last hour.

God’s pay scale is very small; he pays everyone exactly the same wage. You can’t climb the corporate ladder in the Kingdom of God because there is no ladder! Those who enter His kingdom share equally in his love; we are all paid the same wage; and the wage paid by God to each is eternal life with him in heaven.

The question is, what does God, in justice, owe us; what do we deserve; what have we of our own merit earned? If we are honest with ourselves we would admit that no one, absolutely no one is owed anything, especially eternal life with God, from God. You cannot earn eternal life; you cannot work your way into heaven; you cannot achieve salvation by your own efforts, for salvation is a gift freely and generously given by God to anyone who would receive it.

It is God’s gift; we do not deserve it and we cannot earn it, ever. God opens the gates to all of us, no matter our station in life, because he is generous and merciful.

This is a “thought of God” that is far above our thoughts. If God were strictly just to us we would all be in a bad way for no one can truly say that they have earned God’s gifts. Our hope lies in the fact that God is generous and merciful. We could say that in God’s kingdom, life isn’t fair. If it were, we would all be in deep trouble.

The problem, which the parable clearly and rightly shows, is this: like the workers who complain, we seek fairness not justice. We believe we are owed something for whatever it is we do. “What’s in it for me?” is our typical response whenever we are asked to do something for another.

In the eyes of those who had worked all day, they deserved something more than what they had agreed to be paid. Out of fairness. After all, they had worked more than those who worked little yet received the same compensation. And that is the crux of the matter: they were working only for themselves; working only for what they could receive for themselves. And isn’t that what we do as well, whenever we ask, “What’s in it for me?

It seems as though we simply cannot resist anthropomorphizing God, that is, projecting our human thoughts, desires and actions, our humanity onto the divine. That isn’t how God is. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” God doesn’t think as we do. God doesn’t act as we do. We have been created in his image and likeness, not God in ours

God starts from a different place. Having all that is required, God’s actions do not spring from need, unless it be the need to give. The whole point of God’s love is in giving something to the other.

We needy creatures, however, act most basically out of insufficiency. It is understandable that we perceive all love in terms of fulfilling our lack. The other, whether God, human, animal, or thing, stands before us to serve our needs.1

Jesus begins this parable by saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like …” and yet we never seem to make the connection. The parable is about God and his unbounded generosity; it is not about earning what we believe we deserve, an honest wage. It is about God’s justice, not man’s sense of fairness.

We live in a competitive world, a world where too often “might makes right.” But in the kingdom of heaven that isn’t how things work. In the kingdom “right makes right” for it is a matter of justice rather than a competition. As long as we see everything as a competition we will necessarily find it difficult to understand God’s generosity.

The parable further highlights how expectations play in our lives. When expectations are not met, like those hired first, our emotions often override our senses and we experience disappointment, anger, resentment, and bitterness at the unfairness of it all, and that is when we find ourselves shouting: “Life’s not fair!”

Unrealistic expectations lead us down paths we do not want to go: depression, physical and mental stress, even emotional and relationship breakdown.

When we live with an “attitude of gratitude” rather than “What’s in it for me” we receive God’s just wage. We too often base our value and self-worth on what we earn for what we do. Seldom do we see ourselves as God sees us, in our willingness to accept his unmerited and unearned generosity.

Saint Ignatius Loyola once observed that ingratitude “is the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.” If we are ungrateful to God for all which we have received it is because we have forgotten that we have received everything from him out of his generosity and his love.

In our ingratitude, we cut God out of the equation, giving ourselves credit for all that we have. We, like our first parents, find ourselves tempted— “to be as gods” (Gn 3:5) —no longer needing God. We believe we have the means to be totally self-sufficient; we believe that the world owes us something; we believe we are like gods, self-determining the terms and conditions of our lives.

What God gives to those who work for him is a gift, not compensation. It can never be earned; it is never deserved; it can never be considered payment for services rendered, for the gift we receive is the gift of God himself.

Lest we forget: God created us out of nothing; before he created us, there was no “us”; and “nothing” is precisely what God owes us. All that God does he does out of love and generosity. Our only response should forever be our gratitude.

Amen.

Homily #141
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 55:6-9
Philippians 1:20C-24, 27A
Matthew 20:1-16A

 


1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, Envious Comparisons, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

About the Author

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator.

Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin.

He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is “Colloqui: A journal for restless minds”, a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

He is the author of two books: “The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence” which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and “Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories” which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love.

He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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