God’s Justice and Generosity (from my book ‘A Shepherd’s Voice’, 2007)
The gospel story of the landowner who hires batches of workers at different times of the day is a controversial parable difficult to comprehend. What was in the mind of Jesus when He shared this story? If this parable talks about God and His Kingdom, can God be considered just? The landowner hires workers at different times of the day and gives each the same pay. There seems to be inequity in remuneration since workers who were hired for a full day received the same wages as those who were hired late and worked for only a short period of time. The key to understanding the lesson of the parable can be seen in the response of the landowner to the complaint of one who felt unjustly compensated: “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15)
God‘s justice is very different from man‘s concept of justice. From a human perspective, we are just when we give a person what is due him. For this reason, we understand why those workers hired for a full day in the parable had all the right to demand that they receive more than those who worked for fewer hours. However, God tells us in this parable that He can go beyond human justice. The Lord can give more if He wishes. His generosity has no bounds.
When we reflect on how Jesus dealt with sinners we can better understand God‘s justice. Recall how Jesus forgave the thief crucified with Him. He made a simple request: “Remember Me when you come in Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) It was a sincere plea. Perhaps, this was the only consolation he expected from a man he had just met but believed was God. With all humility, this good thief knew who he was, what he has done, and where he should be. He could not boast of anything. All he could ask Jesus was to remember him in His kingdom. To be remembered was his only wish at the end of his earthly life. But Jesus offers more than remembrance. He gives the good thief paradise. We have always heard that the good thief was able to steal something, even up to his last breath—he stole heaven. And stealing heaven was indeed a delight. The reward of paradise to the good thief attests to how generous God is as He welcomes sinners to His Kingdom.
God‘s generosity challenges us to be generous, too. We must be generous in love, mercy and forgiveness. We must be generous in our service to God and others. May this prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola motivate us to have generous hearts: “Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to seek reward, except that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.”
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