POWER OF HUMAN ENVY
Reflection for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
A popular bumper sticker says, “If men were God.” A possible conclusion from this premise is that if men were God, miracles, for instance, would be impossible, and there would be no hope for many because men would forget you even when they didn’t plan; they are just humans.
Another bumper sticker says: “Thank God, God is not man”. This statement is inspired by the word of God in the Book of Numbers (23:19a): “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind.” “Thank God for God!” I dare to add.
In the First Reading of this Sunday (Isaiah 55:6-9), the divine oracle instructs the people to seek the Lord when He may be found and to call Him while He is still nearby. Furthermore, the prophecy says, let the scoundrel forsake his way and the wicked, his thoughts holding on to the Lord’s generous mercy and forgiveness.
The second section of the passage tells us that all the things stated above, that is, finding God when he is near and obtaining His mercy and forgiveness, are possible because His thoughts and ways are entirely different from ours, just as the heavens are far above the earth.
The Time-Bound Laborers
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 20:1-16a) gives us a very interesting narrative about the strange ways of God as opposed to the envious ways of human beings.
In the parable, our Lord Jesus Christ likened the kingdom of God to a landowner who went out early in the morning at 6. a.m. to hire laborers for his vineyard with the agreement to pay them the usual daily wage.
Three hours later, the landowner sought more laborers, and he did the same at three o’clock. Surprisingly, at five o’clock, an hour before the end of the day, the landowner again recruited more laborers who had not been hired.
During the dispensation of remunerations, the landowner started with those recruited an hour before the end of the day and paid them one denarius each, which was the normal daily wage.
However, at the close of his payment routine, it became clear that the landowner paid all the laborers the same amount irrespective of the time they were recruited. It was at this point that those who were first to be recruited revolted.
They contended that the landowner paid them the same amount he paid those who worked for just an hour. However, he did not give them less than they agreed to when recruiting; that is one denarius.
Beyond Envy: God Uses the Available, Ready, and Willing
There will be the need to vet some factors behind the complaints of the earliest laborers. First, they saw what the late laborers received, and that awareness stimulated their avarice, and they hoped to receive more. But when they received the same amount, they became envious.
Envy is a destructive vice that moves the heart to hurt over the abilities or positions of others. The earliest laborers were envious because they thought the lateness of the last laborers would give them a reward advantage. Unfortunately, “First to come, first to be served” is a human pattern without relevance to the divine design.
We may need to know why the landowner needed more laborers at various times of the day, even up to the last hour. The answer is simple. He could have discovered that those already working would be incapable of finishing the work. So, it was not about who came when but the diligence to complete the work.
This parable has so much relevance to the work of evangelization. No bishop, priest, pastor, preacher, or evangelist can do the entire work of God alone. God will continuously bring in more people with new abilities and competencies at various times and seasons.
So, it would be foolish and an attack on God’s program for anyone to be envious and disconcerted about the entrance of new elements in the carriage and expansion of the Gospel.
Nowadays, we have clear and ugly instances of people trying to hinder and pull others down and using various means, not excluding verbal and physical attacks, diabolical defamation, and blackmail. These things happen because people focus on the material rewards than on completing the work.
How to Be in Alignment with God’s Ways and Thoughts
The best place to be is aligned with God’s ways and thoughts. That was why at Gethsemane, our Lord prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). And the Apostle John wrote: “And this is the boldness we have in him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14).
Seek the Lord: Recall that seeking the Lord was the point of departure of the First Reading. Our Lord Jesus Christ advised his listeners during the sermon on the Mount to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33). Unfortunately, we often seek “ other things” before seeking the kingdom of God.
Seeking the Lord is an intentional act of placing God before anything else. The earnest search for the Lord is with the heart, just as the prophet Jeremiah says: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13).
Be Available, Ready, and Willing: God can only use the available who is also ready and willing. The call of Samuel in the temple is an apt example (1 Samuel 3:1-21). The Gospel narrative tells us that some laborers were hired just an hour before the end of the day. That tells us they were available, ready, willing, and patiently waiting to be hired. God can only engage those who are readily available and usable. Time is not a limiting factor in the divine protocols because any time is a good time for God.
Repentance: The First Reading recommended that the scoundrel and wicked change their ways and thoughts. As much as God would want to recruit the available, ready, and willing, he would also like to use those with clean hands and pure hearts (Psalm 24:4).
Writing to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:20-21), St. Paul said there are many vessels of various textures and uses in a large house. But the ones that cleanse themselves will qualify as special utensils for special use by the house owner. And David tells us that God never despises a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
Appreciate God’s Gift in You and Other People: Instead of driving for competition in the work of God, there should be the desire for completion. In the Gospel of John (4:34), Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
Often, we fail to acknowledge and appreciate what God has given us but get so anxious about the gifts of others. There is a place and space for everyone in God’s work field. It is better to focus on developing your potential while appreciating what God has given to others. It is not about who does it better but how well we complete the work for God’s greatest glory.
Moving Forward: Laborers are Still Needed Focus on the Eternal Reward
One of the big lessons from the parable in the Gospel Reading is that God needs laborers at every point, just like the landowner recruited laborers all through the day. So. there can never be enough laborers, and the arrival time does not matter. In our Church today, some people have become the bishops of some priests who received them in the seminary as students.
Insofar as there are lives to be transformed and souls to be saved, “the harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few.” (Matt. 9:37). Let us, therefore, align ourselves to God’s ways and thoughts and not lean on defective human will and understanding.
God bless you.