Sunday, 18 September 2011

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The theme says the “Generous love of God”. What does it mean when we speak of God’s generous love because the parable, if it were an illustration of it, is really an affront to our sense of justice? In fact, the Gospel passage finds a parallel in a current crisis afflicting the financial world. Take a look at the European Union. The citizens of Germany may be wondering why they should be punished for the fiscal delinquency of Greece.

We live in an age of rights… and it is not just "I am right all the time" but rights, as in merits and entitlements, that flow from principles of justice and equity. But, if you pause to think further, you would find, more than ever, the vocabulary of merits and entitlements spelt with the alphabets of the economy.

Today, we are invited to reflect, not on how the principles of justice are to be upheld but to fathom the depth of God’s generous love. Two points to be made here. Firstly, this exercise does not mean that the principles of justice and equity are abrogated. If they were, pretty much of the Gospels will not make sense. Secondly, the parable is indeed most challenging because we have laboured under an unjust system which does not recognise merit but instead rewards mediocrity. Many of you understand what it is like to work hard only to have your entitlement denied by nothing except the accident of a wrong skin colour.

In this context, to plumb the depth of God’s generous love, we need to get away from a calculative mode of thinking. Do you know how our heads are naturally wired to calculating or measuring? To say that one has understood, we sometimes speak in terms of “I have figured it out”. But, once we have moved away from trying to “figure” out God’s generosity, meaning, to limit Him with our measures, a bigger picture emerges as echoed in the First Reading—the heavens are as high above earth as my ways above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.

Once our mind is set free from limiting God’s generosity, we begin to appreciate better how God could send His Son to die for us. And here is the irony. Consider the protagonists in the parable in terms of Jews and Christians. Christians are the Johnnies-come-lately and yet we appear to enjoy the same benefits as the Jews. God made a covenant with Abraham and the people of Israel. And, He generously extends that same faithful covenant to the Apostles, the early Church and now to us.

The lesson we derive from appreciating God’s generous love is that He invites us to His standard. Our generosity is often determined by just deserts meaning that to every man, what he deserves. Thus, merit is an important criterion to determine what one deserves. A good example would be to hear the justification of 11th Sept… that the Americans deserved what they got. Our sense of revenge is actually built on this kind of deserts like the Cantonese would say: “Serves you right”. If that be our standard, then God’s generosity in the Gospel parable would seem perverse.

The truth is that God’s generosity is a response to our needs. To every man, what he needs. He really does not treat us according to what we deserve. If He did, where would we be? In fact, the reason so many people we do not like are still alive--rapists, robbers and the fat woman whose name is spelt with an R?—is testament to a God who does not treat us according to our sins. On the contrary, this God comes to save us according to our need because His justice hinges on unmerited grace.

This explains "in God, mercy and justice meet". His mercy is tempered by justice and His justice sets the limits of mercy. I use the phrase hesitatingly. It means the limit is not really set by God. He will stoop down to save us because He recognises our need to be saved. The gratuity and generosity of His love is limited not by God but by our response. It means that we must, as the first reading says, “Seek the Lord while He is still to be found”. God’s generous love is both a gratuitous gift as well as a task. He comes to us because we need Him whether we acknowledge it or not but His love can never violate our freedom. The ball is really in our court.