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Where’s the Justice?

First Reading: Judges 9:6-15

All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together and proceeded to make Abimelech king by the terebinth at the memorial pillar in Shechem. When this was reported to him, Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim and, standing there, cried out to them in a loud voice: “Hear me, citizens of Shechem, that God may then hear you! Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil, whereby men and gods are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the fig tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come you, and reign over us.’ But the vine answered them, ‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the buckthorn replied to the trees, ‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

Lord, in your strength the king is glad. O LORD, in your strength the king is glad; in your victory how greatly he rejoices! You have granted him his heart’s desire; you refused not the wish of his lips. For you welcomed him with goodly blessings, you placed on his head a crown of pure gold. He asked life of you: you gave him  length of days forever and ever. Great is his glory in your victory; majesty and splendor you conferred upon him. You made him a blessing forever, you gladdened him with the joy of your face.

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off.  And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

ESV

wheresthejustice_8-19-15

It feels good to see justice served, like in the movies when the bad guys get thrown in jail and the good guys get rewarded for their good and heroic deeds. Isn’t that satisfying? I mean, what kind of movie would it be if the good guys and the bad guys all got the same prize at the end?

But that’s exactly the kind of story Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. We’ve got the faithful, responsible workers who were ready at sunrise and spent the entire day working in the vineyard. And then we’ve got the loiterers, probably up to no good, who work for just one hour, and still get the same wage. That’s not fair! My sense of justice is outraged.

And that’s when I realize my idea of justice is different than God’s.

My justice likes to see people get what they deserve. They really screwed up, and now they should pay the consequences.

But God’s justice gives what none of us deserve, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.” (Ro 6:23) If God gave us what we deserved, we would all face death. Instead He desires to give mercy, and offers us all life.

My justice holds people’s sins against them. Remember when they did that? Or when they said that hurtful thing to me?

God’s justice forgives our pasts, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:12)

My justice likes to put my good deeds on display, and likes to get rewarded for them.

God’s justice values humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3) and “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Mt 6:3) If I’m doing good deeds just for the recognition, I have veered way off-course.

I’m realizing that our God is rich in mercy, and lavish in love. His desire is for all people to share in His eternal life, no matter where they’ve come from. I’m realizing that He has given me so much more than I deserve, and that I am called to show that kind of love and mercy to the world around me.

Lord, help me be as generous with others as You have been with me.

photo by Corynne Olivia

Anna Coyne is a wife, mother, knitter, gardener, and convert to the Catholic faith.  Read more about her here.

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