Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Life is often unfair. The prophet Habakkuk complained about the bad things in life, saying, “O Lord, how long will I cry for help and you will not hear? Or cry, ‘Violence!’ And you will not save?” The Lord replied, “The vision has an appointed time. If it seems to tarry, wait for it, it will surly come, it will not delay.” Sometimes we can’t wait, but act on our own.
Once a truck driver parked his long semi outside a highway café and went in for lunch. He was a small man wearing glasses. Three burly motorcyclists began picking on him, pushing him out of their way and laughing at him. The little man said nothing, paid for his lunch and walked out. One of the bullies said to the waitress, “He sure wasn’t much of a man, was he?” Looking out the window she replied, “No, I guess not. He’s not much of a truck driver either, he just ran over three motorcycles.” That’s one way to respond to the bad things in life, not by patient endurance but by taking revenge.
In the book of Revelation, St. John the Apostle urges us to patient endurance like that of Dom Hubert Van Zeller. He was a Benedictine monk and author, who said he was ill for most of his life, and ugly for all of it. But as he grew older he understood that these things were an enormous advantage. He writes, “Had I been healthy all my life I would not have prayed or put myself in God’s hands; and had I been better looking I would not have escaped situations which the more handsome of my friends got themselves into.”
God responds to the bad things in an unfair world with far greater good things that are also undeserved. Jesus changes water into wine at Cana. He multiplies bread and fish to feed thousands of hungry people. He forgives debts we can’t possibly pay. But the greatest vision of God’s loving kindness, the one promised to Habakkuk, is the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Seeing the crucifixion reveals two things: first, how evil all sins are, because they crucified Jesus; and second, how much greater God’s love is, because Jesus’ act of forgiveness on the cross gives us the undeserved grace of becoming children of God, sharers in the divine nature.
Sometimes natural optimism is enough to handle disappointments in life. Like the boy who said, “I’m the greatest baseball hitter in the world.” He tossed a baseball into the air, swung and missed. “Strike one.” Undaunted, he picked up the ball and tossed it into the air again, saying, “I’m the greatest baseball hitter ever.” He swung and missed. “Strike two!” he said. He paused a moment, looked at the bat, and with determination tossed the ball up again, saying, “I’m the greatest hitter who ever lived.” He swung hard and missed. “Strike three!” he shouted. “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world! ”
That optimism is good enough for small things. But when life’s unfairness shakes us to the depths of our being, then we need the vision promised to the prophet Habakkuk, seeing Christ patiently enduring undeserved suffering on the cross so that we can receive the undeserved grace of God’s forgiving and infinite love for us. Let us rejoice, because our places in heaven will be measured not by what we earned, but by God’s love for us. We will receive much more in heaven than our actions deserve because, like the landowner in today’s gospel, God is generous!