25th Sunday of the Year (a) 2017
“Yes, the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts” These words are spoken by the prophet Isaiah is in the context of forgiveness. The prophet is saying that no matter how bad a person is, how evil, if he turns back to the Lord, he will be forgiven. The prophet knows human nature well, he knows that if someone does bad things then we would want him punished not forgiven. We have a strong sense of justice. It is not quite “an eye for eye, a tooth for tooth” but our sense of justice is strong; since we were children we were taught right from wrong; and if you do wrong you deserve to be punished.
This sense of justice is evident in the gospel story we have just heard. The men who worked longest, all day in fact, expected to get more than the men who were hired at the last minute. When they realize that those who hardly did anything are getting the same amount, they grumble, “they have done only one hour and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” These men feel the landowner is being unjust, unfair. And you can see why. I remember sharing this story with a male charge-nurse in a hospital; I was working there for a few months. I thought he would pick up on the point of the gospel, but no, he told me that if that happened in this hospital, he would call a strike: it was the 1960’s and everyone was striking.
What God says to us in Christ is that we must be merciful and generous as He is merciful and generous. Don’t expect to accept this teaching easily; because it’s not easy, to say the least. It means we have to think like Christ, be merciful as he is merciful, be generous as he is generous. As a child I had a strong sense of justice. And when I saw my brother do something wrong I would want my mother to punish him, and would be upset if she didn’t: “he get’s away with murder” I would complain. But sometimes mothers can understand the gospel message better than most. Their love for their children makes them ‘soft’ in other peoples eyes. How often did I tell my mother, “you’re too soft with him”. Of course, I never did anything wrong!
God is soft with us. He is, in a sense, ‘unjust’ in his mercy. I have learned this over the years. I still have a strong sense of justice but more importantly of mercy. Mercy comes before justice. All of us do wrong things in life, and sometimes the things we do are very wrong. However, all we have to do is to turn back to the Lord and ask forgiveness, and we are forgiven. It’s a simple as that, and yet that is not simple. It is not easy to believe that we have been forgiven. I know people who cannot believe God will forgive them. They cannot forgive themselves the wrong they’ve done; not even God, they think, can forgive them. And yet, this God of ours wants nothing else than to forgive. He is not like us. He is just, yes, but above all He is merciful.