Christ the King Catholic Church
Picture this: 1961. Sacred Heart Catholic School, Terre Haute, Indiana. Third Grade Class. A new student is introduced to the class. His entire family has just entered the Catholic Church and enrolled in the parish school. In glowing terms Sister Bernard Michael explains what has happened to the new student by virtue of his baptism. He has been born again. He has been washed clean of any and all sins. He had been given a white robe on the day of his baptism and that robe is clean as a whistle. And, heaven forbid, if he should be struck by an alien space ship and die, he has a direct trip to heaven, bypassing purgatory completely.
The students of that class listen attentively to all that Sister says, knowing that the contrast between the new kid and the rest of the class is great. Those kids, all of whom were cradle Catholics, in nine years of careless and sordid living had racked up a mountain of purgatory time. Their white robes were not as clean as a whistle. The class cannot miss the obvious joy in Sister Bernard Michael's voice as the contrast between the new kid and the rest of the class is carefully drawn.
What is the reaction of Sister Bernard Michael's third-grade class to the new kid's good fortune? The new kid received a cold shoulder. It took at least a week, an eternity in a third grader's calculation of time, for the new kid to be accepted. That acceptance corresponded to Sister Bernard Michael's painful realization that the new kid talked in class just as much, if not more, than everyone else and that baptism did not immunize him from playground skirmishes.
In case it's not yet clear, that was my third-grade class at Sacred Heart School in Terre Haute 59 years ago. And after all these years, I still remember my reaction to the good fortune that was afforded my classmate by virtue of his baptism. It was a reaction very similar to the people in the Parable of the Landowner who were jealous of the owner's generosity.
Every time I hear the Parable of the Landowner, I am taken back in time to a little desk in the third-grade classroom at Sacred Heart.
The words of the Prophet Isaiah in today's reading are clear: "For your thoughts are not my thoughts, and your ways are not my ways, says the Lord."
This parable of Jesus was being told at a time when many non-Jews were being baptized and joining the early Christian community. For the Jewish converts to Christianity this was hard. They had always been God's Chosen People. They had worked hard and long in history to make God's name known and prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. And now, suddenly, non-Jewish people were being accepted into their ranks and being put on equal footing with them. It just didn't seem fair.
And that is the very point of Jesus' parable. God's ways are not our ways. His ways are far above our ways. He doesn't give us what we deserve. He gives us more than we deserve. It was a hard lesson for many of the Jewish converts to learn. It was a hard lesson for a group of third graders in a classroom in Terre Haute in 1961 to learn and, truth be told, it is probably a hard lesson for us today.
The parable is the story of generosity, amazing generosity. It is the story of God's generosity. The good news of the scripture today is that God's ways are not our ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God's ways above our ways.
Like the people in the parable who were hired first, we often times want God to be fair as we understand fairness. We want God to give us what we think we deserve. But the problem is that if we ask God to reward us according to our goodness rather than his goodness, we would all be doomed. Because, when all is said and done, we are, as Jesus once told us, worthless servants. No one of us can earn what God has planned for us which is life eternal in a Kingdom beyond all human imagining. No matter how long we have labored in the field, we could never 'earn' the good things that God has prepared for us. The way of the Old Law, the way of the Old Testament, was just that. A person was justified by obedience to the Law, every letter of the Law. But no one could keep the Law perfectly and, therefore, no one could be justified.
And so, the Old Testament gives way to the New Testament. Law give way to grace, And, as the people who were hired in the last hours in today's parable discovered, all is grace. Those workers placed their trust not in themselves and in
what they could earn, but in the goodness and generosity of the owner of the field and what he would give them. And they discovered that they received, more, so much more, than what the deserved.
God is good and God is generous. He shows that goodness and that generosity to all of us. We come to Mass this Sunday morning and God shares his own divine life with us. God prepares a meal for us at the cost of his own Son's life. He comes among us to strengthen us for another week of living. Whether we were baptized in our infancy or at last year's Easter Vigil, we are each given a place at this table. Who of us deserves what God gives us?
Fortunately for us, God's ways are not our ways. He gives us more than we deserve, infinitely more than we deserve. And the great challenge of the lives of all of us who have experienced this great generosity of God is to allow ourselves to be converted to God's ways rather than trying to convert God to our ways as we are often wont to do.
As we go forth from Mass today let us strive to imitate God by giving to others not only what they deserve, but more than they deserve and so imitate God's great generosity to all of us. May God's ways become always more our ways.