Saint Stephen's Statue.

ST. STEPHEN'S

CATHOLIC CHURCH

 

12, Gbeto Street, Off Iwaya Road, Onike-Iwaya, Yaba-Lagos.
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Saint Stephen's Building.
 

THE LOGIC OF GOD IS AWESOME

crucifixIn the liturgy of today we see the extraordinary generosity and compassion of God (Matthew 20:1-16). The story of the landlord's love and generosity represents God’s love and generosity to all of us. It illustrates the difference between God's logic and perspective and ours. God's provisions for our spiritual lives will never run out, and when we share our blessings with others, we tap into the inexhaustible Divine supply.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds the exiles in Babylon that their God is more merciful than they are, and more forgiving. He is ready to pardon the infidelity which has resulted in their exile. Their merciful God will bless them with material and spiritual blessings. Hence, Isaiah exhorts them, and us, to seek the Lord and to put aside evil ways in order to receive His mercy and forgiveness.

Isaiah reminds the people that their years of ignoring their Covenant with God had brought their world crashing down around them, leaving their cities destroyed, their Temple razed, their wealth pillaged and their hopes dashed. But because of God’s great love and mercy, His chosen people were to be forgiven. They would return home, their land would be restored to them and their relationship with God would be reestablished.

God is more merciful than we are and more forgiving. As Isaiah reports, “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.” Our Faith teaches us that, as a loving Father, God acts only for our good. God is always near to us in this life, and if we remain near to Him on this earth, we can trust in His love and goodness to keep us near Him forever in Heaven.

Paul in the second reading sums up his reflection with the following instruction: "only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ". We must continue to ask ourselves in all sincerity, I am a worthy ambassador for Christ and His Church? Am I living a life worthy of my Christian vocation? Or have I allowed myself to pulled more by the forces of darkness and evil, and hence I'm more inclined to envy, bitterness, resentment, licentiousness and all manner of sinful habits?

The parable described in today’s Gospel is known as “the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard” or “the Parable of the Generous Landlord.” This remarkable and rather startling parable is found only in Matthew. It reminds us that although God owes us nothing, He gives abundantly and equally.

Jesus tells us the strange parable of a landowner who hired labourers at five different times during the course of one day to work in his vineyard but paid the same living wage for a full day’s work to all of them. At first sight this act seems quite inappropriate and unfair, however, Justice was served, since the land owner agreed to pay a particular sum and did not renege on the agreement. The main issue here is generosity.

What is most noteworthy of the landowner is the relentless way he goes out to find laborers (five times), his willingness to hire the ‘rejects’, and his desire to pay them a full day’s wage. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like this landowner. The love of heaven takes the initiative in seeking us out. The love of heaven chooses us despite our utter unworthiness. And the love of heaven is lavish in its self-gift to us. To love the kingdom of heaven is to love this landowner and the way he acts. The temptation is for us to measure our life and ‘the way things should be’ by a standard at odds with God. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2).

Jesus here is teaching us about the Kingdom of God. God will continue to invite us over and over throughout our whole life. God never tires of asking us: “Will you come and work in my vineyard?” We can’t really believe that God is so good because we ourselves are often no so good. But God is not a human being! God is God and has his own ways and His own thoughts. God loves us eternally and is always willing to forgive us and to show us mercy. We can take advantage of God's generous love and mercy by extending same to our brothers and sisters.

Going further, this story of the landlord's love and generosity represents God’s love and generosity to all of us. It illustrates the difference between God's perspective and ours. God's provisions for our spiritual lives will never run out, and when we share our blessings with others, we tap into the inexhaustible Divine supply. This story shows us how God looks at us, sees our needs and meets those needs generously and mercifully.

Whenever the issue of generosity comes up, it evokes both a positive and a negative response. The positive response is trust. In the parable, those hired early in the day were confident in the security provided by the formal contract with the owner. It was a business deal. But for those hired much later in the day, there was no mention of a contract: “He 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'” (Mt 20:6-7). The workers relied on the word of the owner, and trusted that he will give them whatever is right. And they were not mistaken.

God’s generosity is beyond the comprehension of everybody: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). Knowing this should be enough reason and assurance for us to trust God unconditionally. This is what St. Paul told the Romans: “He who did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:32). Rightly, then, did the Spirit-filled Elizabeth praise the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Visitation: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45).

On the other hand, the negative response to generosity is envy: “Am I not free to as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:15). God’s generosity is quite acceptable and even desirable when we are the recipients. The problem comes when it is other people who are the recipients, especially those whom we think are less worthy than us. This is precisely what happened to the Jews at the time of Jesus. They were convinced that they were better than anybody else since they belonged to the Chosen People of God. They expected to be treated with a “favored nation” status. They are the ones referred to by Jesus in the parable as the workers who were hired first. They resented seeing people whom they considered less worthy, receiving favors from God. They hated the sight of Jesus dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, curing the lepers and talking to pagans. Jesus rebuked them for this sort of attitude: “Thus the last will be first and the first will be last.”

In life, we struggle to have more than others and in this unhealthy struggle we fall into the trap of jealousy and envy. When we become envious, we tend to forget our blessings and envy the blessings of other people. A Greek proverb says, “As rust corrupts iron, so envy corrupts man.” Envy is the act of casting an evil eye on the blessings of others and forgetting the heaps of blessings that we have. We look out of the corner of our eye what God is doing for others and fail to notice the good works he is doing in us. Envy is a symptom of lack of appreciation for what we have and who we are.

We learn too from the gospel narrative that we need to, by all means, resist and overcome envy. Being a Catholic or even a Christian does not mean we are better than the others, who are not, and that we can expect and demand heavenly favours more than the others. That we have some special gifts does not make us better than those who do not possess same. That we are privileged to have received some favours from God does not and should not make us overbearing on those who it seems are less favoured. Let us always remember that if God is generous with us, He must also be generous to others. The good thief crucified next to Jesus is the classic example of this. Jesus told him, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Indeed, as God tells us in the first reading, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is 55:8).

Matthew's point in preserving this parable of Jesus is that the new Gentile converts entering the Church have the same rights and are heirs to the same promises as the Jewish Christians who have a covenant — an agreement with God going back to Moses — and have been members from the beginning. Jesus inaugurates a whole new system of values.

Also, it must be said that humility and docility to God's will and purpose that takes us to heaven. We must continue to shun envy and bitterness and seek to imbibe humility, mercy and love. We must see ourselves for who we really are, sinners and unworthy of God's favours. Only then can we cherish His magnanimity and generousity on us, remembering always that His ways and not ours, and His thoughts are also not ours.. The logic of the world is quite different from the logic of God. God's logic is all about mercy, generousity and love for even the most hardened sinner. Jesus says, I've come not for the virtuous but for sinners.

Let us close with these words of Bishop Fulton Sheen: “How God will judge my life I know not, but I trust he will see me with mercy and compassion. I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expect who will not be there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there.” The logic of God is definitely different from the logic of the world.

Prayer - Lord Jesus,fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may serve you joyfully and serve my neighbor willingly with a generous heart, not looking for how much I can get, but rather looking for how much I can give. Amen!!!

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