25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
18 September 2011
Phil 1:20c-24, 27a
No Fair! The ref missed a foul!
Mommmmmm! She got a bigger piece of cake than me. Unfair!
It’s not fair! Why does it always rain on MY weekend off!
Sound familiar? It should. We become sensitized to fair and unfair—we actually become overly sensitized to fair vs. unfair—early in life; certainly before third grade. For some special interest groups whining “no fair” or looking for evidence of unfairness falls somewhere between a hobby and an art form if not a billy club to manipulate others. But fair is a relative concept. Even more than that, fair is a human concept. Fair is an idea defined by human vocabulary. It does not apply to God.
The gospel parable is one with which we can all identify. It could easily be made into a short movie or skit. Four groups of workers are recruited for manual labor at various times of the day, from early in the workday to an hour before its end.
It is easy to understand the excitement on the part of the first group hired. The last group was paid first. And they were paid a full day’s wages. We can almost hear the first group thinking or speaking among themselves, “Wow! Time and a half! Maybe double time. Bonus city! Bingo!!!!” And, we can identify with their annoyance, annoyance bordering on fury, that they were paid no more than those who worked an abbreviated day. Of course they were paid no less either. But, that didn’t stop them from whining “No fair.”
FAIR. And that should be cause for great rejoicing. The first reading helps explain.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” God is beyond the concepts of fair and unfair. In our understanding, fair means that each gets what he or she deserves. No more and no less. However, human ideas and concepts such as the difference between fair and unfair cannot be projected onto God. God transcends our descriptions. God cannot be contained by our pitiful human vocabulary when it attempts to describe what is indescribable. We can never know God’s mind.
God proved that He is not fair. You need only go upstairs in this Basilica, to the Chapel of Our Mother of Sorrows, the chapel endowed by the First Slovak Catholic Union, to see the evidence of God’s unfairness in the pieta that stands there. God showed that He is not fair by sending His only Son to redeem us from our sins. God showed how unfair He is by sending Jesus to free us from the snare of death. Only through God’s unfairness could we hope to have eternal life. God showed how unfair He is in the life of Mary the Blessed Mother, Our Mother of Sorrows. Mary, who said, “May it be done unto me according to Your word,” endured the same sorrows, the same unfairness that we do in our daily lives.
Because Jesus came into this world to suffer and die for our sake we know that God is not fair. Because Jesus came into this world to suffer and die for our sake we know that God is magnanimous. We know that God is overwhelmingly generous. God is so far beyond fair that the term no longer has any meaning in reference to Him. God is not fair because He offers redemption to all of us, small time sinners and chronic mortal sinners. That redemption is available regardless of: Income. Size of house. Brand of car. Zip code
True, we have to ask. Yes, we must repent our sins. But those options are open to everyone. God is there to forgive. God is there to give us the same wage, redemption from sin, the same wage, the defeat of death, the same wage, life eternal, no matter how many hours we worked in the vineyard.
“Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy to our God, who is generous in forgiving”
We should be as unfair as God is when it comes to forgiveness. Grudges. Vendettas. Gossip. Slander. We are very good at all of these. We can be slighted or hurt by someone and remember every detail about that slight. Forever. We are skilled at non-forgiveness. Revenge is a popular sport. But that is not God’s way.
Jesus summarizes much of human behavior when He asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?” The answer is yes, unless we are the recipients of more generosity than everyone else. Then we feel we deserve it. But do we truly deserve what God has done for us? Are we truly worthy recipients of what Paul wrote in the Letter to the Romans? ”While we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
If God were truly fair, if God truly gave us what we deserved, no more and no less, Jesus would never have died for our sins. “The Lord is near to all who call upon him.” The Lord is near to all, not only to the wealthy, not only to the powerful. The Lord is near to all. He redeems all. And He loves all. Without exception.
It is not fair.
Am back on the East Coast. At least my body is back on the East Coast. Physiologically I am just crossing the international dateline. The naps are not voluntary. They are more like narcolepsy. When it is time to sleep it is time to sleep.
I had the happy opportunity to celebrate Mass in the crypt chapel at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception this morning. The Mass was for the First Catholic Slovak Union, a benevolent organization that funded the chapel of Our Mother of Sorrows in the Shrine in the 1960's. It was a great way to reenter life here in D.C. The homily is below.
No photos today. I don't have the energy to look for the external drive that contains all of my photos. I head to Philadelphia, then my hometown, and then Boston tomorrow (overnight or longer stops in each location). Back to D.C. on 2 October.
Upon return I will reenter the routine of Masses in a variety of locations and figure out what is coming next.