I am notoriously difficult to give gifts for, which causes grief for my parents.
Despite the trouble I give them, they still seek to give. The notion of giving gifts to someone is done through generosity, and someone is generous through love.
Today’s gospel reading is about showing the generosity of God, the loving mercy and forgiveness that he grants to others. The early workers in the vineyard are complaining about the unfairness of the landlord, giving the same pay to all, even those who worked less. After all, we are used to the notion, you put in a certain amount of work, you get a certain amount of pay, or reward. If you work harder, if you go through extra training and work, you ought to get more. If you are lazy or untrained, you ought to get less.
What the landlord does is indeed not fair. God is not fair, he is generous. The point of the parable is that God’s saving mercy, God’s gift of redemption, is not something we are owed, it is not based upon a certain amount of work put in. It is just that, a generous gift, given to us through Jesus Christ and the offering of himself upon the cross. From those who sin little, to those who sin greatly, God’s mercy is offered to all.
And because that is the case, it is foolish to compare ourselves to others. Were you Christian from birth, did you join at a later time in life? One receives that same heavenly reward. What you have done before believing in Christ was before. The important thing is that you are with him now, and for the remainder of your life.
If there is anyone who says to themselves, “I deserve to go to heaven”, they may want to rethink that. If there is anyone who says to themselves, “I am pious and virtuous, I deserve heaven more than others” they may want to rethink that. All have sinned, and all fall short of deserving heaven. Thankfully, God is not fair, he is generous and loving and merciful. Remember, justice is getting what you deserve, and its not always good. Mercy is about getting what you don’t deserve, getting off the hook.
God’s love is not earned, it is freely given, for God first loves us. Now that said, a gift does nobody any good if it is not accepted and received. The gift we receive from God is a new life in Christ, a life that is loving, hopeful, joyful, enduring, bringing an interior and spiritual peace, and of course, everlasting. This must be a gift you are willing to receive, this is a gift that must be nurtured and cared for, so that it is strengthened.
The Church often talks about the importance of both faith and works. Faith is about believing and accepting that gift, the works are about nurturing, strengthening and maintaining that gift, allowing it to grow to its full potential to transform you in the divine life of God. How many gifts have we received in our lives that have been neglected, thrown in a closet, tossed away in the trash, or simply forgotten. This must not be the case with God’s gift of salvation.
When we sin, when we turn away from God’s love and commands, it is saying, “God, I don’t care for your gifts, I don’t want your generosity, I don’t accept your presence in my life.” That is sin. Selfishness in the form of pride, envy, greed, and the like. God wants us to turn away from such wickedness, so that his gift, his Son Jesus Christ, might remain and grow within us.
Remember, this is not a static gift, but a living gift, a real and living relationship. Think if you every got a flower or plant as a gift. You must nourish it, care for it, cultivate it. Then it will flower and produce fruit. If you let it sit and do nothing, if you place it in bad soil, it withers and dies. Therefore, make you gift last, make it grow. God continues his generosity in providing us many ways of nourishing our relationship with him.
The most important nourishment he gives us is the gift of the Eucharist, Christ himself, who feeds and nourishes us. Reconciliation which heals and restores us. Commands to guide us. All the things he gives through the Church. Living the gospel well.
We still must conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel. This not only acknowledges what God has given to us, not only is it a great act of thanksgiving, not only does it strengthen our relationship with Christ, but it also serves as an example for others to see and follow. St Paul says it best in our second reading from his letter to the Philippians. “Christ will be magnified in my body.” In other words, the life of Christ, all that he taught and stands for, will be made visible and apparent in the way one lives. The gift that God has given you will be known to others, and hopefully, others will then seek it.
Recognize how great this gift is, the generous and undeserved gift of Jesus Christ, having Him a part of your life, so that you may grow in love, in joy, in peace, in fulfillment, and be preserved for life everlasting.