Why be envious because God is generous?

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

It is not always easy to understand the ways of God. In the Gospel parable today (Matt 20:1-16) we see the workers failing to understand why those who worked just one hour received the same wages as those who worked all day.  It reminds us of our futile attempts to understand why some people seemingly have been dealt a better hand than others going through life. Why does God apparently give more blessings to some than to others? We approach this question from our own light but the answer lies elsewhere. There is an ancient Islamic story about a man searching under a street lamp for a key he dropped. A neighbor saw him searching and joined the search for the key under the street lamp, but he did not find it either. “Where did you drop it?” his neighbor asked. The man said, “Down the road there about fifty yards.” The neighbor, somewhat puzzled, asked, “Well, why are you looking here?” The man said, “Because there is more light here.” In our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah God tells us the same thing,

“Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways.
my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isa 55:9)

It is not always easy to understand God’s ways. In any case it would be silly to be jealous of others because we only see the outside and we never know what cross others have to carry.

The landowner in the parable in the Gospel understood human nature very well when he said, “Why be envious because I am generous?” (Matt 20:15) Those who worked hard in the heat all day were jealous of those who worked for only one hour and yet got the same pay. But instead of being envious and jealous of those who have been dealt a better hand than us there is a better attitude, to be grateful for the hand we have been dealt. If you are jealous of someone, stop for moment and think of what life might be like for you right now if you were living in Southern Africa where there is a famine raging (2002). If you feel that life has been unfair to you, the Bible has much to teach us to heal our attitudes. In many places the Bible teaches us that we are to give thanks to God at all times in all circumstances. In Eph 5:20 we read, “Always and everywhere give thanks to God who is our Father.” In 1 Thes 5:16-18 we read, “Be happy at all times; pray constantly and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.” In Col 3:17 we read, “Whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through him.” So even when others prosper or have more success or better chances, what can we do? We can give thanks to God for the blessings he has given to them and the blessings he has given to us.

Another way of looking at this is that if God has blessed others greatly he also expects much of them. Remember the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30); the one with five talents made five more, the one with two talents made two more. To the one who has been given much, much is expected. No matter what good fortune comes to others it really doesn’t matter because as followers of Jesus our aim is to use everything for the kingdom of God. In Matt 6:33 we read, “Seek the kingdom of God first and all these other things will be given you as well.”

There is another way I would like to look at this; God has a perfect plan for your life. If others have more than you, it does not mean that God loves you less. God loves each of us specially. In the parable, the landowner - representing God - said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you.” (Matt 20:13) God is our friend and is not unjust to us. Think of parents and children. Parents have a different relationship with each child but love each child. God deals differently with each of us because God loves each of us in the way that God knows best for us and his kingdom. The attitude to have is one of trust in God.

“My friend, I am not being unjust to you…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?” (Matt 20:13-15)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2002

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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