Not rendering powerless God’s goodness
Throughout his prophetic journey, Jesus insisted time and again on communicating his experience of God as “a mystery of unfathomable goodness” that breaks through all our calculations. His message is so revolutionary that even after twenty centuries there are still Christians who do not dare to take it seriously.
In order to infect everyone with his experience of this Good God, Jesus compares God’s behavior to that of a lord of a vineyard. He goes out in person up to five times to contract day workers for his vineyard. He does not seem to be too concerned about their work performance. What he wants is that no worker spends another day without work.
That is why, at the end of the day, he does not pay them according to the work that each group has done. Though they have put in different amount of effort, he gives them all “a denarius,” that is to say, each receives basically what a peasant family of Galilee needs each day to survive.
When the spokesman of the first group protests that the last ones have been treated the same as those who have worked more than anyone else, the vineyard owner answers him with these amazing words: “Are you envious because I am generous?” Are you going to stop me with your stingy calculations from being kind to those who need bread to eat?
What is Jesus suggesting? Is it that God does not conduct himself according to the criteria of justice and equality that we work with? Is it true that God always seeks to respond from an unfathomable goodness to our radical need of salvation, rather than go about measuring the merits of people, as we ourselves would do?
I confess that I feel great sadness when I meet good people who imagine God being given to jotting down very carefully the sins and the merits of human beings, in order to pay them back exactly according to what each one deserves. Can we imagine anymore more inhuman than someone who spends all eternity doing so?
To believe in a God who is an unconditional Friend, can be the most liberating experience imaginable, the greatest strength we can have to live and to die. On the other hand, one who lives in the presence of a vindictive and menacing God can become the most dangerous and destructive neurotic.
We have to learn not to mistake God for our own narrow and stingy structures. We should not deprive God’s unfathomable Goodness of its power by mixing authentic features coming from Jesus with features of an avenging God taken from the Old Testament. Before the Good God revealed in Jesus, there is room only for trust.
José Antonio Pagola
September 21, 2014
25 Ordinary Time (A)
Matthew 20, 1-16a