How can we ever understand mercy when we have such a hard time accepting how God offers mercy to all who accept his invitation?
In today’s gospel we see mercy in a parable wrapped around the concept of when his invitation is accepted. Do we do accept to follow him early in life or later in life? Do we accept his invitation like the prodigal son after living our life in pursuit of every pleasure or have we remained faithful as did the older brother and are angry because that son was not punished?
Do we understand God or do we want to impose our concept of justice on God? Jesus in his own words tells us it is Gods’ desire “that none should perish” (Mt. 18:14). Can God’s desire to offer mercy to all who repent be any clearer than those words – he desires none to perish.
Let me give you another gospel story that captures this essence of God for you and that is the story of Jonah. Jonah was chosen by God to go to Nineveh and call them to repentance or God would destroy the city and all its inhabitants. Jonah fled away instead of doing God’s will because he knew how merciful God was. Eventually, Johan ended up on the shores of Nineveh and walked the entire city crying out repent or God in 40 days will destroy the city. They repented and God relented.
At this Jonah was “disappointed and became angry” (Jon.4:1) because he knew God would relent. He was angry because his understanding of justice demanded the people of Nineveh be punished for their sinfulness and disobedience.
God once again shows us his mindset when he says to Jonah; “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand…”
Time does not allow me to continue to show you in the scriptures how God has a different standard of justice than we do.
We have been brought up to believe wrong must be punished and doing right will be rewarded. Our parents were our first teachers in this concept of justice when they punished us for not following the rules they established. Along the way they also taught us how to comply with societal norms of right and wrong by punishing us when we failed to comply with those norms.
All our lives were ruled by that standard of good being rewarded and bad being punished. We accept the penalties and know when we fail we will be punished. The thief on the cross voiced this concept when he acknowledged he and his fellow thief deserved to be crucified while asking Jesus only to remember him. You know how that conversation ended; the same way Nineveh was spared the thief was with Jesus that day in paradise.
So when we hear this parable of the workers in the field we side with the workers who toiled in the sun all day and got paid the same wage as those who worked an hour or two. It does not fit in with all we have been taught by parents, society about getting what you deserve.
At the core of this justice concept is that we believe we deserve more because we have done all we believe God requires of us. Perhaps we are missing something of what God requires of us because we failed to learn it as we were learning the concept of justice. What we may have missed along the way and what these parables are clearly showing us is where compassion fits in with our faith.
If we are called to be disciples and make no mistake about it we are called to be disciples not just church goers, then we must do what our master did. Jesus makes this clear to us when he told us in that upper room the night before he died that “we would do the works he did.” Jesus forgave the most horrendous of sin committed by all involved in his passion and death.
Can we ever understand the concept of forgiveness and come to understand God loves those who are truly evil as much as he loves us? Are we like Jonah and cannot conceive of someone being that compassionate without demanding anything but repentance?
We fail because we do not know the road to discipleship begins with repentance and travels a road of obedience and transformation of our minds so we begin to understand the great hope to which we are called and the power of God at work among us who believe.
It is only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that can reprogram our minds to forgive as God forgives. These parables are given to us to point us in a direction where we need to ask for God to change our hearts so we can forgive those who have done as much damage to us as those who brutalized Jesus and crucified him. These parables are given to us to help us realize showing up is not enough – it is what we do when the opportunity to be like Christ is before us that counts. The older brother teaches us that as does these complaining workers.
The lessons of the cross should have taught us that when we began our spiritual journey but it is not too late to learn.