The Unconventional and Unfathomable Ways and Love of God!
Readings: 1st: Ish 55, 6-9; Ps 144, 2-3.8-9.17; 2nd: Rom 1, 20-24.27; Gos: Mtt 20, 1-16
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
On this 25th Sunday of ordinary time we reflect on the unfathomable ways and love of God. This love is incalculable by any human standard and might even look foolish going by our human understanding yet, it does not in any way diminish its efficacy. The Church therefore invites us to emulate this love. Bill Wallace, a Christian missionary doctor in China, so loved these words: “To live Christ, and to die gain”. When he was arrested by the Communists and treated brutally, he would scribble verses like these on the walls of his cell to keep himself sane. In 1950, after months of interrogation and abuse, he was found dead. The Communists claimed he had hanged himself, but his body showed signs of having been beaten to death. What a dilemma! Defying the Communist authorities, his friends buried him with honor. Over his grave, they inscribed the words they felt described the motivation of his life: “For To Me, To Live Is Christ!”
All the readings of today seem to have one thing in common: “Dilemma”, especially, about God’s Love”. God sets the ball rolling in the first reading from Isaiah by extending an unmerited invitation to us. He expressed this invitation with a spark of great urgency – “Seek the Lord while he is to be found; call to him while he is near, let the wicked man abandon his way…!” The dilemma here then could be captured in this one million dollar question: Why should so holy a God whom we, like the Israelites, abandoned and offended so much, instead of punishing us, extend an urgent invitation to us? It is absurd, a dilemma and unconventional at least going by our human reckoning, is it not? God himself gives us the answer: “Yes, as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my ways above your ways, my thought above your thoughts.” Often times, we under estimate the love of God for us. The reason is simple! We think of him in the same fashion we think of our fellow humans, as very difficult, unforgiving, and or ever ready to punish us. Unfortunately and obviously we are wrong, because, he is different. That is why he will go out of his way to extend an invitation to us. Most people like to receive an invitation to a special function, perhaps to a wedding or a celebration dinner. Unfortunately, that sort of invitation is usually highly restrictive. Wedding invitations are given to relatives and close friends; celebration dinner invitations are restricted to top people in business or politics. But the invitation that God offers us in spite of our unworthiness is a universal, unconditional, gracious, and unconventional type of invitation borne out of his unfathomable love for us.
The second dilemma comes from Paul today, who was locked up in his divided opinion as to whether to die in order to be with the Lord once and for all or to keep living for the sake of the love he has for his brethren and flock. As Christians, we are pulled in two directions. We all want to go to heaven, but this life also holds great appeal. The apostle Paul had mixed feelings too. Although he believed he would be released from prison, he knew that he could possibly fall victim to Nero’s sword. This created a conflict in him. He longed to be with Christ, for that would be “far better” (v. 23). He also wanted to live, not merely to enjoy life but because he was needed by his fellow believers (v.24). In one of William Shakespeare’s play titled: “Hamlet” a young prince wondered whether to liberate himself from the sorrows of this life through suicide by musing to himself: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” On the contrary, Paul’s answer to life’s most profound dilemma and question is, “To live Christ, and to die gain”. Whichever way one looks at it, the impetus agitat (driving force) of Paul’s dilemma is love of Christ, and of course, love of his flock. Paul was pulled in two directions, and in both cases it was for the ultimate reason. What about us? Therefore like Paul, our actions and the decisions we take must be motivated by love either for our neighbour or for our God who first loved us and extended an unmerited invitation to us out of his love for us. Whether we die or live it must be for the love of Christ or for souls that need help. Paul sums up his reflection and resolves his dilemma in the following instruction both for his brethren and us: “Avoid any thing in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.” Of course, number one in the class of this “Anything” is any action devoid of love or not motivated by love. As it was for Paul, love for Christ, his good news, and for our brethren must motivate all our actions, the goal of our life and our endeavors. It must be the source of our strength. Hence, the act of dying or living for love of God and our brethrens will no longer be a tragedy in our eyes. Such a death would bear added witness to the gospel and it would confirm that our faith and love for God is steadfast.
In the gospel Christ presents to us what in our human understanding could be labeled “unjust”, or another dilemma. How could the Owner of the vineyard pay everyone the same amount? It was difficult for the earlier workers to understand just as it would for most of us today. Yet, the answer is: The ways of God the owner of the vineyard are not our ways period! What we see in this dilemma, is simply the justice of God (theodicy), the generous, unconditional, unconventional and unfathomable love of God for all his children. The most outstanding characteristics of the owner are his goodness and generosity, qualities he has every right to. His action towards the last group of workers, shows that he is not acting in accord with “strict justice” or sound economics, but out of his unfathomable love for all who respond to his invitation. To all he has extended the same unmerited invitation and to all he will pay the same wage because his love cannot be quantified, calibrated or price-tagged. It is simply for all who heard and respond to his invitation. His reward does not depend on when he called anyone but on his generous, unfathomable and unconventional love. God is a generous lover, his love is as strong for the weak as it is for the strong; strong for the rich as it is for the poor; strong for the healthy as it is for the sick, strong for Americans as it is for Africans; strong for Europeans as it is for Asians, Australians and Antarcticans; strong for Jews as it is for gentiles, strong for women as it is for men etcetera. This is the dilemma of God’s love and generosity. It is difficult to fathom, because his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are far above ours.
Jesus summed up the dilemma of God’s unfathomable love with these words: “The first shall be the last and the last the first”. How could this be? We must note carefully here that in turning the table around, Christ in no way rejects any one. He never said that the last shall be cast away or be disadvantaged. What counts in God’s vineyard is not years of service, but diligence of heart as a chosen one. Through this parable, Jesus is saying to us: You are privileged to be with me, to be here early, but others will come into the kingdom also, you must not claim a special honor above them or an exalted place over them (Mt 20, 25-28). All men, no matter when they come in, are equally precious to God, and reward in God’s vineyard for all who respond to his invitation is not dispensed by virtue of time served but, by grace extended to the chosen and willing. Just as old age does not necessarily bring wisdom, more years does not necessarily mean honor, and experience in years does not promise greater pay in “God’s business.” What simply and surely matters is that “the Lord is close to all who respond to his invitation, and call on him. It does not matter how and when because, his love is unconventional, unfathomable and of course, his ways are not our ways!
Peace be with you all!!