Sunday Scripture reading, Sept. 20, 2020: God's generosity
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Is 55:6-9
Psalm 145: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18
2) Phil 1:20-24, 27
Gospel: Mt 20:1-16
The pandemic has brought out the worst and the best in people. As the virus spread and employment conditions changed drastically, a local Catholic parish in my neighborhood stepped up their efforts to feed families struggling with loss of jobs and income. This Catholic community went from providing food each week to some 50 families before the pandemic to feeding close to 400 families affected by the pandemic!
As parishioners learned of the growing needs of families whose breadwinners had lost employment, they ramped up their weekly efforts and contributions so that no one who would come to the pantry food line would be turned away empty-handed. Their outpouring of generosity reminds me of the early Christians who were known in the pagan world for their concrete love of the poor and their outreach and accompaniment of the marginalized in society.
I am sure this scenario has repeated itself in communities around the country and the world. Moments of crisis tend to bring out the best in the human spirit as people respond in acts of service, compassion and generosity to those in need. By doing our part, however small, we lift the burdens of others and become powerful vehicles of God's generous love in the world.
Such examples of human generosity remind us of a fundamental truth about God, echoed in this Sunday's Scripture readings. God is generous beyond human imagining or calculation. God's generosity goes beyond every act of human generosity, however noble and praiseworthy.
For the generosity of God reaches into the depths of each human heart where deep longing for God and sinful selfishness coexist. God's generosity touches those interior and spiritual places where human generosity cannot begin to reach.
And so we read these comforting words from the prophet Isaiah, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. ... Let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving." With prophetic insight Isaiah reminds the people that God's ways go beyond our controlled human ways of counting costs and calculating risks.
Breaking our human scales of generosity, mercy and forgiveness, and our calculations of compensation and worth, is the God who is being itself, the source of all that exists, the creator and sustainer of the world, and your creator!
And isn't that the lesson of the parable that Jesus tells his disciples? The workers who are hired at the last hour are given the same usual wage that those who began early in the day received even though they had born the heat and brunt of a long day's work. From a human standpoint this wage scale makes no sense. In fact, we might even find it unjust and exploitative! So what's the deeper lesson here?
God's generosity and ways break every human category and estimate. And for this we should be very thankful. For only God's unconditional love and abundant, overflowing generosity can right the many wrongs in this fallen world. For the wisdom and insight to be alert to God's higher ways and abundant, generous love we pray, "Speak to me, Lord."
How are you called to imitate God's generous love today?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.