Envy and God's Mercy

September 20, 2017 - 10:00am
Envy and God's Mercy
Scripture Reflections for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

 

Perhaps no story in the New Testament proves the truth of that statement more than today’s Gospel. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, we are confronted with what we might consider an unfair situation. The owner of the vineyard goes out and hires workers, starting in the early morning and ending close to sundown. But no matter what time of day the workers are hired, all get the same daily wage, even if they only worked for one hour.

Most of us probably will think how very unfair it was that some had to labor all day and others got to waltz in at the last minute, but everyone got the same reward. In fact, the characters in the parable felt the same way and most likely so did Jesus’ audience.

But that’s what makes the parable so powerful. It’s only after we work through our thoughts and feelings about what is right and what is wrong that we can begin to see beyond the apparent unfairness to the character of the owner, who is a symbol of God, and realize that Jesus is telling us that no one is left out of God’s love. Once we are able to move on from the “injustice,” we are then able to give thanks to God for what he has given us and realize any feelings of envy or comparison to others reflects not on God’s generosity but on our own poverty of spirit.

 

First Reading

Turn to the LORD, who is generous in forgiving (Isaiah 55:6-9).

 

The context for this passage is clear: the renewal of the “everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David” (55:3). Isaiah warns Israel that she should call on the Lord and repent of her covenant unfaithfulness. The logical outcome if Israel doesn’t do this is that she’ll be displaced. Israel is being warned not to presume on God’s covenant love. His “ways,” which are above our ways, are aimed at universal salvation, not merely national or racial honor. God’s whole plan from the beginning aimed at saving “humanity part by part,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts  it  (CCC  56),  and  he’ll  use  whatever instrument he must to accomplish that.

We see from the historical events following the coming of Christ  that  Israel  wasn’t  replaced  in  an  absolute  sense.  St. Paul reminds us that the call of Israel is “irrevocable.” Israel wasn’t so much replaced as expanded. She now includes us. We’re now Israelites in spirit. As such, the prophetic call of Isaiah ought not to be read as a dead letter. It’s addressed now as much to us as to the Israel of old. “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.”

 

Second Reading

Live your lives in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a).

 

We see in this reading the classic refutation of the claim that Christians are unconcerned about this life and only intent upon achieving “pie in the sky.” Paul states it with elegant succinctness: “‘life’ means Christ; hence dying is so much gain.” Life and death are the same for one who has been incorporated into Christ by Baptism. Life in the flesh hasn’t been devalued by the revelation in Christ but elevated to the level of a participation in the glory of Christ—even now. No one lives so fully as a committed Christian. No one values time so much as one who measures it against the aspect of eternity in heaven. That was the way Paul lived, and he challenges us to do the same.

 

Gospel Reading

The last will be first, and the first will be last (Matthew 20:1-16a).

 

We might assume in this reading that Jesus is referring to eleventh hour or deathbed conversions. We might also read it as a parable about the inclusion of the Gentiles, the nations beyond the borders of Israel, in the saving plan of God. But another reading, one we might call a mystical reading, would suggest that Jesus is simply telling us that God’s plan itself isn’t always subject to human calculation. It isn’t that it’s irrational, but rather, unpredictable. The only thing to trust is that all will be ordered for not only his will, but also for our good. He alone has the capacity to order all of time, even those parts of it which seem to represent the worst in human tragedy or even human sin, in perfect accord with our best interest.

The one thing that the Bible ought to teach us is that when we’re dealing with God, we should be prepared for surprises. This isn’t to say that God will defy his own laws, but he isn’t shy about violating ours when conviction, culture, or convention might stand in the way of his plan or our own good. And again, his will is always consistent with our good.

 

Video Presentation & Discussion

 

This week we hear the famous parable of the laborers in the vineyard. What message does it have for us today?  Please watch the short Opening the Word video on the home page of FORMED.org and find out.

Katie Warner, the presenter in the video, tells us that the owner in this parable is meant to be an image of God.

What do the owner’s actions tell us about the nature of God?

Why, according to Katie Warner, is envy so destructive?

 

DIGGING DEEPER: Envy

 

“Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will. Envy often comes from pride; the baptized person should train himself to live in humility: ‘Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God. Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised’ (St. John Chrysostom).”        —CCC 2540

 

 

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