THEME: GOD’S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS
READINGS: Isaiah 55:6-9 / Philippians 1:20, 27 / Matthew 20:1-16
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thus says the Lord: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). The parable in today’s gospel reading (Matt. 20:1-16) could be used to illustrate the above statement. In the parable, the labourers who worked the whole day thought that they would be paid more than those who worked for only an hour. However, the generous landowner thought differently. He paid those who worked the whole day the agreed amount of a denarius each, and paid those who worked for lesser hours the same amount. Similarly, whereas we may give different rewards for different outputs, God, whose ways are not our ways, gives the same ultimate reward to all who obey Him.
One’s ways of doing things are based on several factors. These include the following: the degree of his/her knowledge, wisdom, love, generosity, etc.
Firstly, let us consider the factor of knowledge. For example, a teacher sent to a remote village to establish a school sieved and boiled the water fetched from a stream while the villagers simply sieved the water. When the villagers found the way he treated the water strange, he took the opportunity to educate them. Similarly, whereas God’s knowledge of the past, present and future is absolute, our knowledge is very limited. Hence, His ways are often different from ours.
Secondly, wisdom is a factor which informs the way we act. Wisdom is “the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments” (Cambridge Dictionary). Even a person whose poor decision on a previous occasion led to a failure may learn from his/her experience and make a better decision subsequently. God, however, does not need a previous experience. He is all-wise, because He created all things and has absolute knowledge about them. St. Paul expresses the awesomeness of God’s knowledge and wisdom as follows: “How great are God’s riches! How deep are His wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain His decisions? Who can understand His ways? As the scripture says, ‘Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give Him advice? Who has ever given Him anything, so that He had to pay it back?’ For all things were created by Him, and all things exist through Him and for Him. To God be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36; GNT). Therefore, beloved, whenever we feel that God is not acting the way we want, we should humbly submit to His way with absolute trust, and eventually His blessing will exceed what we had wished for (cf. Eph. 3:20-21).
Thirdly, the depth of one’s love determines his/her thoughts and ways. For instance, because of the great love of a mother for her sick child, she will leave no stone unturned to care for her and seek her healing. On the other hand, a work colleague may not be that passionate about a sick colleague. Similarly, because God’s love is infinitely greater than ours, His ways are different from ours. His love, unlike ours, is always totally unconditional. It was out of such unconditional love that He offered His only Begotten Son in sacrifice for the atonement of our sins (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10). Therefore, beloved, whenever we feel that God is not acting the way we want, we should trust that He who lovingly offered His Son for our sake has our best interest at heart. In such moments, let us be encouraged by the exhortation of St. Paul: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. … What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will He not with Him also give us everything else?” (Rom. 8:28, 31-32; NRSVCE).
Fourthly, our sense of generosity also determines our ways. For instance, a generous businessman may go beyond the agreed conditions of service to build a house for his reliable and honest driver of many years. On the other hand, the usual businessman may give such a driver only the agreed salary and benefits. Similarly, whereas God’s generosity is unlimited, ours is limited. God is like the landowner in today’s gospel reading who gave the labourers who worked only few hours more than they deserved.
Like the landowner in today’s gospel reading, God gives the same ultimate reward to all who obey Him. His ultimate reward is life in heaven. Actually, no human being by his/her own merit deserves to be blessed with life in heaven. It is, rather, the sacrifice of Jesus which has opened the gate of heaven for us. So, life in heaven is a reward exceedingly greater than what any human being deserves to receive by his/her efforts. Indeed, it is out of the abundance of God’s merciful love and generosity, as well as His knowledge of our inability to enter heaven that we are blessed with the ultimate reward.
So, God’s reward of life in heaven is a generous gift to both the first-comers and the last-minute-comers. We are all precious in God’s sight: whether we became Christians at “infancy” or we are late converts – remember the gracious reward to the repentant thief on the cross (cf. Luke 23:42-43). Therefore, let us eschew any “holier than thou” attitude.
Finally, may God grant us the grace to always seek and embrace His ways, while we surrender our ways. Amen!
By Most Rev. John Kobina Louis