God Is Not Fair And Thank God For That

God Is Not Fair And Thank God For That

This Sunday’s Gospel reading challenges every one of us to come to a deeper appreciation of the generosity of our God. It seems like a universal reaction to complain when we have been deprived of something we think is owed to us. This sense of dissatisfaction with unfair circumstances can fuel the changes that make a more just world. But sometimes, this sense of dissatisfaction is misplaced and can even make the world less just, less merciful.

Imagine winning a million dollars in the lottery and griping that it’s not two million. Or receiving a miraculous cure of a terminal illness and complaining that it didn’t also cure a less serious condition. I remember going on pilgrimage to Rome for World Youth Day in 2000. It was hot the day we celebrated Mass with Pope John Paul II. A local beverage company handed out hundreds of thousands of bottles of water—for free. Someone in my group complained that it wasn’t cold water. Complaints like these fuel bitterness and envy.

Think about the complaint of the “early shift” laborers in the vineyard. They worked the whole day. I’m sure that working the whole day gave them the benefit of establishing a rhythm. Not only were they working longer, but they were likely more effective and efficient workers because of it.

Then come the “late shifters.” I bet they showed up, with an hour or two to go, and had no idea what they were doing. They likely caused more harm than good by messing up the efficient technique of the veterans. Some of them might have even voiced ideas on how to improve the system as if they knew what they were talking about! And in the end, they got the same pay. The injustice of it all.

We may have a tendency to view our fellow vineyard workers in the same light. “They’re not as committed as I am,” we might say. Or, “They don’t give as much time, talent and treasure.” Or even, “They’re not as morally good as I am!” Yet all are given the same work of evangelizing and offered the same reward of eternal life.

The reality is that none of us deserves the opportunity to labor, nor do we deserve the generous reward. In reading this parable, we shouldn’t get too caught up in trying to identify whether we are early or latecomers. That might lead to comparison. Love doesn’t compare, it doesn’t weigh benefits, and it doesn’t hold back. This parable is an opportunity to stand back and marvel at the generosity of our God, who desires that all be saved and gives us each a role to play in His Divine plan.

The response to Jesus’ love is to look within and ask, “Lord, how can I give more?”

Saint Paul talks about his dilemma in the second reading. He desires an end to his labor in the vineyard, that he might live with Christ forever. But he also has a strong yearning to continue his mission of evangelizing, sharing the love of Jesus and the message of salvation with anyone who will listen. Keep in mind that Saint Paul was in prison when he wrote to the Philippians. His mind was not focused on receiving fair treatment, but on Jesus. For him, and for us, every soul brought to the vineyard and given a reward is a reason to celebrate with joy the undeserved, unmerited, and unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

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Made for More than Mammon

Made for More than Mammon

Dear Lord,

I know that love of money is the root of all evil and that many people can be corrupted and changed for the worse by it.  But I believe I can overcome the temptation with Your help.  So please let me win the $200 million Powerball in order to prove how great You are. I know I am up to the challenge. Ka-ching. I mean A-men.

I have prayed something similar to this before. I know, it’s a really shallow prayer. After all, money can’t buy happiness. Actually, I would argue that it can buy happiness. The word “happy” has at it’s root “hap” which means luck or fortune. We all agree with this idea of happiness as luck to some degree. Ever notice that when you see someone with a huge smile on their face you immediately assume some external good fortune came upon them. And it’s true. If I get a new pair of shoes, I’m happy. If I step in something messy, I’m unhappy. If I go to Chipotle, I’m happy. If they’re out of guacamole, I’m unhappy. The worst thing about investing so much self in the pursuit of happiness is not just that it is hard to hold on to (it is) or that even when you can grasp it it fails to truly satisfy. Jesus tells us that the pursuit of mammon—which is worldly happiness, or wealth, or pleasure or comfort etc.—ultimately prevents us from pursuing the greatest Good. Himself.

Because we weren’t made for these passing things. We were made for Christ. And He cannot be second place in our lives to anything else.  Mammon is really whatever we place ahead of Jesus. And mammon can be anything. It doesn’t have to be money. Saint Augustine gives a little test to discern what mammon is to each of us: imagine God comes to you offering whatever you desire and nothing is out of bounds or off limits and it’s not a trick either (e.g. you ask for a million dollars and end up receiving the life insurance pay out from the death of a loved one). Whatever you request He will grant but there is one catch—once your desire is granted you will never again, in all eternity, see His face. If there is something for which you would take that deal, that’s your mammon.

I know that I say in my words and many of my thoughts that, no, there is nothing worth that deal. But I also know that my actions can tell a different story. I know that sometimes the way I live my life and what I choose to pursue betray the fact that I often put things before Jesus. Sometimes it’s money (that I don’t even have!), sometimes it’s a desire for acceptance and esteem, sometimes it’s a desire to stay in my comfort zone. I flit around from one fixation to another hoping to find something that satisfies. Following Jesus, being His Disciple, has taught me little by little that He is all I need. In Him I live and move and have my very being. In Him I find rest.

 

 “…You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

-Saint Augustine