“Every time I take step in the direction of generosity, I know that I am moving from fear to love. But these steps, certainly at first, are hard to take because there are so many emotions and feelings that hold me back from freely giving.” Henri J.M. Nouwen shares his personal struggle in his book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” Rembrandt’s painting has spoken to the heart of Henri that brought him to a deeper spiritual journey and discover the utter generosity of God in his life. Have we discovered our own story of God’s generosity? Or do we see ourselves as beneficiaries of God’s generosity? Our readings today guide us into the depth of God’s heart and mind that challenge our thinking.
The prophet Isaiah (55:6-9) in the first reading invites us to “turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.” The deepest experience of being loved is the experience of being forgiven. When there is no limit of forgiveness then there is no limit in loving. For those who seek him and call on him may have the benefit of meeting him in the depths of one’s heart and be touched by his love and mercy. Even probably the worst persons we can think of, when touched by God’s love can turn around completely offering themselves for the service of God and others. The experience of God’s generosity begets generosity in us to love and serve others. This is precisely going beyond our concept of justice where one is punished or rewarded according to one’s merits or demerits. Isaiah pronounces God’s words, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
The life of St. Paul and with so many others in the history of humankind is an example of an encounter of this unfathomable mystery of God’s unconditional love. He could not imagine himself to be an apostle of Christ bringing good news to the nations when he looked back from his past persecuting the Christians. Yet he was called and chosen by Christ. Paul’s experience of God’s mercy is his absolute generosity beyond the confines of distributive justice. Otherwise he could have been punished by what he did to the followers of Christ. This is precisely divine generosity generating in hearts of St. Paul. This is how he responded in the second reading (Philippians 1:20-24, 27), “Christ will be exalted through me, whether I live or die.” He completely understood that it’s not because of his own merit that he is doing the great missionary work but just he is only a beneficiary of God’s generosity, mercy and compassion.
This is the lesson of Jesus in the Gospel parable (Matthew 20:1-16). The workers’ notion of justice, of fairness according to human standard is challenged by the owner of the vineyard. Those who started to work early have the sense of entitlement of getting more since they spend more time- this is distributive justice. However, the demand of distributive justice, while not negated, cannot contain and limit the generosity of God, and transcends human standards. It confirms then what the prophet Isaiah declares that God’s ways and thoughts are not the same as us. This parable is intended to break our limited sense of generosity and be touched by God’s so that we grow in our mercy and compassion for others. This is supposed to tell us something too that God is truly generous to us by giving Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. This is God’s magnanimity; he can even radically turn towards himself for the sake of love. Can we not be grateful for this?
–Fr Regie, MSP