Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey


Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20c-27; Mt 20:1-16a ]

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

Now that is an interesting question! The vineyard owner was generous to those who worked the least number of hours, yet those who worked the most number received the wages as agreed … the same wages as the last hired. From the perspective of the secular world one can understand the irritation of the first hired. But Jesus tells us that from the perspective of God, the irritation is really envy. This is an important teaching of His because it reveals something very fundamental about human nature: we resist inferiority and believe we deserve better than we're getting.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given abundantly. They could eat of every tree in the garden…EXCEPT one. The serpent convinced them that because of the one exception the gift of all the others was not a sign of generosity, but of stinginess … and they deserved better.

Adam and Eve and the first-hired laborers had a disease of perception. They could not see the abundance, but instead wanted “more.” They could not comprehend the word “enough.” They could not see that the issue was not one of proportion.

The issue was simply that “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” In other words, the Creator is superior to the creature and decides what the creature needs to fulfill its purpose.

They had a disease of perception; we perceive according to our desire. We were made to desire God, but that desire was perverted when Adam and Eve desired to be like God. They desired to be more than was their nature. They wanted to avoid an experience of inferiority.

This has been handed down to us. Inferiority and dessert, the active ingredients in envy, prevent us from letting God design our happiness. Today, with the vineyard workers, Jesus is teaching us that our happiness does not lie in getting. It is in giving rather than getting that God's thoughts and ways are above ours.

Jesus is showing us in today's parable that we can turn to a loving God Who allocates gifts abundantly and wisely … according to His plan for the part each of us is to play in the common good. Knowing this we can choose admiration over envy. Admiration is like a new pair of glasses; it corrects our perception. We don't have to understand God's ways in order to admire them.

St. Aelred emphasized admiration and contribution as contrary to envy in a sermon to his monks for the feast of St. Benedict. He says: “No one should envy his brother because of some grace, as if it were exclusively his. What he has is for the good of all and what his brother has is also for his good. Almighty God causes each person to need the other and to have in the other what he does not possess in himself. Thus humility is preserved, charity increased, and unity recognized. Therefore each belongs to all and all belongs to each.”

St. Aelred has said it well. We need not organize our lives around the avoidance of inferiority. The prophet Isaiah assures us that we have the love we crave. He says: “Do not fear, for I am the Lord, your God. I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine … you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you” (43:1-4).

It has been said that “A woman has two smiles that an angel might envy: the smile that accepts a lover before words are uttered; and the smile that lights on a newborn baby and assures it of a mother's love.”

Jesus tells us today that we all need that kind of love … and we all have it.

Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Am 8:4-7; 1 Tm 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13 ]

Who said, “I've been rich and I've been poor and rich is better!”? That was Sophie Tucker, a Russian-born American singer, a comedian, an actress, and a radio personality. She was one of the most popular entertainers in America during the first half of the 20th century and widely known by the nickname, “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.” She also said, “From birth to age 18, a girl needs good parents. From 18 to 35, she needs good looks. From 35 to 55, she needs a good personality. From 55 on, she needs cash.” Sophie Tucker was a little too sophisticated for me when I was growing up, out of my league. My idol for the love of money was Scrooge McDuck, the rich Scottish tycoon and cranky old uncle of Donald Duck. And he's still the richest duck in the world. What caught my fancy as a child entrepreneur was his daily swim in a huge money bin, full of gold coins. Of course, he had to protect all that money. Being rich is a full time job. It provides opportunity for lots of dramatic stories to prevent the loss of so much wealth.

Enter Jesus: picture him walking with his apostles down the long dusty road from upper Galilee to Southern Judea where he will be crucified in Jerusalem. This is his last journey, so what he says along the way must be very important. Jesus keeps warning his disciples about the danger of riches. They are to take no purse, no bag, no sandals. He tells them about the rich farmer who built bigger barns rather than share his surplus with the needy. This tycoon provided for his future by laying up treasure for himself, but he was not rich before God. Here is a great paradox: we acquire heavenly riches by giving away earthly riches. Jesus said: “Give alms, and so provide purses for yourselves that hold treasure in heaven.”

During this last long journey to Jerusalem, Jesus told about an unjust steward caught squandering his master's property. This parable immediately follows the story of the prodigal son who squandered his father's property. The prodigal provides for his future by returning to his father's house with sincere repentance, and the unjust steward provides for his future by canceling debts. He is commended for his prudence and Jesus urges us to do the same so that we will be welcomed into the eternal dwelling places. Jewish rabbis have a saying: “The rich help the poor in this world and the poor help the rich in the next world.”

The Phariesees who were lovers of money, heard all this, and scoffed at Jesus. So he told them the story of a rich man, Dives, who gave nothing to the poor man, Lazarus, starving on his doorstep. The futures of these two men are reversed in the life to come. As Jesus approaches Jericho, he invites a rich man to sell all he has, give to the poor, and follow him. And he will have treasure in heaven. But he went away sad for he was very rich.

Who was Jesus thinking of? All of us, of course, but especially one of the twelve apostles. Walking along the road with Jesus there was a real scoundrel, a thief, who did not take to heart any of these warnings about the danger of loving and hoarding riches. It was Judas Iscariot. Judas went right on loving money until the day he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

In today's story the master is really our heavenly Father, and no one is richer than God. Not Sophie Tucker, not Scrooge McDuck, not even Bill Gates! The steward represents each of us, for we all have to give an account of how we have managed his goods. What shall we do to provide for our future before our stewardship ends?

When John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was a teacher at Oxford University back in the 1700's, he was paid 30 pounds per year, a lot of money in those days. His living expenses were 28 pounds, so he gave 2 pounds away. When his income doubled, he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he gave away 32. Later he earned 90 pounds and continued to live on 28, giving away 62. Eventually he earned 120 pounds while he continued to live on 28, and gave away 92. One year his income grew to a little over 1,400 pounds. Now he lived on 30 and gave away all the rest! John Wesley felt that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian's standard of living but the standard of giving. What a great way to provide for the poor in this world and one's future in the next!

When I was growing up the story of Scrooge McDuck's love of money influenced me more than the prudence of the unjust steward. But down deep I understood the difference between having a big money bin or a big heart. Around the age of 11 or 12 I set up a store on the front porch at home. I sold candy and trinkets, pop and ice cream to anyone passing by. One day a police officer, who was a friend of my father, stopped his patrol car in front of my little business. He looked around and asked if I had a license to run a store in this residential area. Quick as Scrooge McDuck defending his money bin, I replied, “No, I don't need one.” He asked, “Why not?” I replied, “Because I give the profits to charity.” He laughed and let me be! Well, not only did I love money, but I was a liar, too! However, God had his revenge by calling me to be a monk. On the day of my solemn profession I gave away all the money I had saved, my entire money bin.

One day we will all have to give an account of our stewardship, individually and collectively. Jesus is teaching us how to live. What will it be: treasure on earth or treasure in heaven, loving money or loving the poor?