Be Loving, Generous, Big-Hearted
Sunday Homily for September 21, 2008
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (25A)
By Father Clyde A. Bonar, Ph.D.
Jesus tells us a story, a story we do not much like. The owner of a vineyard hires workers in the early morning, then later in the day, and then hires more just an hour before quitting time. Comes time to pay the workers, and everybody gets the same pay: each gets a full day’s pay. A day’s pay was just enough money for a worker to feed his family for one day.
Those who worked all day complain. We can almost hear their words: I worked all day in the hot sun, and I get a day’s pay; he worked only one hour, he worked only two hours, and they get paid for a whole day’s work, exactly what I got paid for working all day.
The workers complain, "It's not fair." The owner retorts, "It's my money. A contract is a contract."
"It's Not Fair"
Truth be told, the workers have come up against one of life's realities — life is not fair. Early in life we learn how unfair life is. And the lesson is reinforced time and again.
In the family, the youngest child is allowed to date at a younger age. "It's not fair," the older brothers and sisters cry, as they watch the youngest child pampered by their parents. But, meanwhile the youngest child sees the older teenagers get to drive the car, stay up later at night, and get a bigger allowance. What does the youngest say? "It's not fair."
So many times life leaves us feeling cheated. How about the couple who pray for a child, perhaps spend thousands on fertility specialists, and still they have no baby of their own. Then, they try to adopt, and go on a long waiting list. Meanwhile, a young teenage boy and girl make one mistake and end up pregnant. Both couples lament, "It's not fair."
Or, think about an elderly mother who needs nursing home care. More often than not only one of the children is there for their elderly parent. That one son or daughter visits their mother every day. Helps her with her grocery shopping. The other children visit, maybe, on Mother's Day. In his or her tiredness, the faithful son or daughter says, "It's not fair, I'm the only one taking care of our mother."
Truth is, life is not set up to be fair. Some people have heart disease, others don't. A few strike it rich, most don't. Very few of us will be rich, beautiful, athletic, and always healthy. Others will be poor, uncoordinated, ordinary. A lesson we learn early and face often is, "It's not fair."
Is God Fair?
How about God? Is God fair? No, God is not fair! God is generous!! God is mercy and love and forgiveness. God goes well beyond being "fair."
Think first about life itself, life is God's gift. I had a retreat master who started every session with the prayer, "Thank you, God, for loving us into life." Life, a gift from God. On the Sixth Day, God took some dust, fashioned a man, and breathed life into his nostrils. Then, said, "it is not good for man to be alone," and God made Eve. (Genesis 1:26;2:7,18:3:8-13.) Is God fair? No, God is love (1 John 4:16), and God loves us, you and me, into life.
Our God is a generous God. A giver of gifts. The all-time best story of God's generosity is to give a son to Abraham and Sarah. Longing for a child, Abraham and Sarah had pleaded with God. Sarah even told Abraham to have a child by their slave-girl, so much did they want a baby. Then, when Abraham had already hit one hundred years old, and Sarah was on the other side of ninety, God said, Sarah, you shall have a son (Genesis 17:15). Such a gift, Abraham and Sarah cracked up laughing, from joy, from surprise. Is God fair? No, God is generous. God gives wonderful gifts.
God is merciful, forgiving even the worst sins. Remember the sins of the Apostle Paul. Paul was a Pharisee: insisted that all Jews strictly obey the Law of Moses. When Paul sees people following Christ, breaking the Law of Moses, Paul and his hit squad went after them. It was Paul who led the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), making Stephen the first martyr for Christ. Is God fair? No, God forgives. God not only forgave Paul after Paul persecuted Christians, God then called Paul to be his Apostle. Made Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Is God fair? No. God is generous. God is mercy and love and forgiveness.
Called To Imitate God
Our call is to be like God. Because God is love and mercy, generous and forgiving, we are to be loving and generous and merciful and forgiving. We are to imitate God. And, we do, for the most part.
At each hurricane season we are reminded of the Hurricane Katrina and all the acts of kindness in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (landfall, August 29, 2005). A category four hurricane, winds up to 140 mph, storm surges reaching 30 feet high. Whole towns along the Gulf Coast leveled, not one building left standing. Eighty percent of New Orleans flooded. Chaos, confusion, anarchy as people struggled just to survive.
Then, help arrives. We saw firefighters from New York City step through shattered neighborhoods to rescue survivors. A disaster medical team from South Carolina administers immunizations to evacuees. From a disaster relief station a man pushes a grocery
cart filled with ice and water and Army Meals-Ready-to-Eat on an eight mile round trip to help neighbors.1 A lady in Central Florida opens her home to three families, thirty strangers sharing her three bedroom house.2 Helping others, showing care, that's what we did during Hurricane Katrina.3 That’s what happens after any disaster, whether caused by nature or the worst accident.
Or, take a difference example of love and generosity. Al and Helga Kaiser adopted Kokichi Nakamura after his parents died.4 Young Kokichi served Mass, played tackle on the school football team, and was pitcher for the baseball team. The Kaiser's ran a bakery, and Kokichi would watch Al and Helga mix, pour, pound, knead, and coax the dough into tempting delicacies. When the Kaiser's retired, Kokichi took over the business. Still "Kaiser's Bakery," but added to its sign were these words, "Strudel by Nakamura — the finest this side of Vienna."
Shift the scene. A great example of people imitating God is the story of Nicholas Green. A seven-year old boy, on vacation with his family, killed by robbers on a highway south of Naples, Italy. Thieves fired into the car, thinking it someone else. Nicholas died, and his parents decided to donate his organs. By their generosity, seven Italians received an organ transplant. The Greens simply said they wanted to see something good come from the tragic death of their son Nicholas. He had been an exceptionally caring boy, and by the organs his caring goodness would continue.
Our call is to be like God. Because God is love and mercy, generous and forgiving, we are to be loving and generous and merciful and forgiving.
In the first reading, from Isaiah, we heard God say, "my ways are not your ways." The man who worked all day was paid a day’s wage. The last hired worked an hour and was paid the same full day’s wage. Each worker was paid not what he earned but what he needed to feed his family. God gives and gives and gives. Because God is generous, merciful, a giver of gifts.
Jesus said, "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." If we want to be first, we need to make God's ways our ways. In day to day life, to act like Christ, to act like God. To be loving, to be generous, to be big- hearted.