The Readings for the 20th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St. Hyacinth of Poland, friar and priest
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?Matthew 20:15 (AV)
THE PAIRING OF THESE TWO readings seems strange, or perhaps funny. The Gospel is about the landowner who – by modern lights – is very unjust and the 1st Reading is about shepherds who treat their sheep unjustly. Not seemingly unjustly by modern lights, mind you: they are actually unjust.
When the Israelites were told to gather the manna, each person in the family could gather a jar full of the stuff: larger families had more jars. But at the end of the day, what was not eaten could not be stored. You could gather the same amount, but no matter what you ate (or did not) you had to gather again tomorrow. Those who gathered too much had just enough. Those who gathered too little had just enough.
Gather one jar full (per person) eat what you want. Tomorrow you’ll need to gather again. God provides a superabundance, but you get exactly what you need.
The landlord in the Gospel paid what he should have paid. He did so for increasingly less work. We are never told what was needed, but, everyone got paid for the day.
I think about Jesus’ parable when people talk about “living wages”. We used to have something like living wages in this country. You see it in old movies: an employee gets married or has a kid and, because of the change in life, he asks. for a raise. We don’t think about this, but a system of “living wages” would do away entirely with “equal work for equal pay”. This latter is not just and ensures only that everyone gets the same wage: not that the wage is “living”. For what a living wage is for a parent of three kids is very different from the same living wage for a childless person. A living wage for a married person is less than that of a single person unless the married person is the only bread winner. A single mother with kids needs more to live than a bro living in a bro house. No one really thinks through the idea of “living wage”: it’s just political manoeuvering. So, notice that what we think of as “living wage” would require the boss to be “generous” and entirely “unfair” by modern standards. He would have to give more to someone who needed more – even if they were doing the same work.
Are you envious because I am generous? (NABRE)
God is infinite life bestowed on us in infinite love. Any sin (no matter how small) is a choice for death over life, for self rather than self-gift, for solitude rather than love. Yet when we return to God his gift is fullness it cannot be otherwise if the choice is made now, later, or even on the deathbed. God’s living wage is always this infinite life poured out on us. We do tend to want that for ourselves, but seeing it given to others can be really difficult, especially if the others have been unjust – even moreso if we have been the target of their injustice.
What do we do when our own forgiveness requires more of us? If yo’ve been given infinite love, what do you do with it? We are envious, sometimes, when God’s love is poured out. This is like the story of the servant who was forgiven – but cannot forgive (Matthew 18:21-35). This is the story of the older son who cannot forgive the prodigal brother (Luke 15:11-32). This is the story of the whole church in dealing with unjust sheperds. What do we do when they want to come back?