Reflection on the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Turn to the Lord for mercy, to our God who is generous.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.
Are you envious because I am generous?
This is who God is: generous, merciful, of great kindness. Isaiah, the psalmist and Jesus himself, according to Matthew, tell us that God is generous. We admire generosity, but we don’t like being generous to people we think don’t deserve it.
Who are we going to be generous to if not to people who don’t deserve it?
There’s a policy called “Housing First.” It’s built on research that says if you provide a house – an apartment, a room – for a homeless person and you give it with no restrictions: no rent to start, no requirement that the person be clean and sober, no curfew, guests can stay overnight – provide this, a house that is truly theirs, and the odds are very good they will begin to recover from homelessness and build a life, clean and sober, on meds for mental illness, and with a job and maybe a partner. But taxpayers don’t like “Housing First.” Handouts will destroy the homeless person’s self-reliance, they don’t deserve a house, they have to meet some conditions. “Housing First” is cheaper than emergency-room resuscitation, cheaper than someone asleep on the park bench scaring shoppers, cheaper than detox, cheaper than foster care for the kids. But we don’t like it. “Housing First” isn’t even as expensive as it seems at first. We’re saving money in the long run. But we still don’t like it. We don’t like being generous to people we designate as undeserving.
Since I sent this off to Mary Swain to send to you, I’ve had two small epiphanies: Maybe Mary Ellen would call them small moments of mysticism. And Martha reminded me of a story. This may be really obvious to you, but I was thinking about the Gospel, and I thought, Jesus was really smart. He knew that God is the essence of generosity, and he made up this parable to get exactly to the point.
Being generous to someone who doesn’t deserve it, that’s a definition of mercy. I don’t know if the workers who came late to the vineyard were especially poor, just that they didn’t deserve full pay. It’s a simpler and clearer story than my “Housing First” example, and at age 32 or so, Jesus had it clear in his mind.
The story Martha reminded me of is that Ann Pat asked a Protestant colleague at the National Council of Churches why the opposition to gambling. He said because it is getting something for nothing. Ann Pat said she thought that is what grace is.
My second epiphany was at Mass yesterday when I heard the first reading read by somebody else, which says that my ways are not your ways. Generosity is God’s way, and we are invited to be like God.