The Gospel reading from this past Sunday is one that I find intriguing. Jesus presents a parable that speaks to the nature of God. Yet it is a nature that we struggle to understand since it is far beyond what seems natural to our humanity. The line that stood out to me was near the end. It was a lovingly spoken parting blow from Jesus, aimed at the egos of His followers down through the ages.
“Are you envious because I am generous?”
The situation that came to mind was from a recent class as we discussed a few attributes of God. We spoke of the limitlessness of God’s knowledge, love, and power. As we waded into what it means that God knows all, questions arose, as I was certain would happen.
“If God knows everything, then why did He…”
You can fill in the blank with whatever you would like. Sometimes they questioned why God would create specific people, knowing the hurt and pain they would inflict. Other times they questioned if we truly have free will since God knows everything we will do. They are interesting questions and ones I try to wrestle with for my students.
The closer to home I can make the examples, the more they seem to understand. Why would God create people who do evil things when He knows they will do them? I connected it to free will and asked, rather than answered, another question.
“Is it free will if God only chooses to create the people He knows will be good? What would it mean if God surveyed our lives and then only created the people who would follow Him anyway?”
While still a difficult concept, I believe they began to see that God loves and creates people regardless of their future actions. As humans, we are quick to separate ourselves into different groups. There is Hitler and other really bad people on one side. On the other, good people like you and me. So I decided to pose another question to them, one that tries to pry into their idea of “good people.”
“If God chose to only create the people who were good, would we have been created?”
Our instinctual reaction of “I’m a good person” kicks in, only to be checked by, “Am I?” I do not know what I will do in my future, maybe it will be something awful. From my vantage point of the present, I can see the mean and sinful things I have done in the past. I want my students to realize that appearances can be deceiving and goodness difficult to measure if we use subjective standards.
“I am uncertain that I would have been created if God only made the good people.”
This is where I think it connects to St. Matthew’s Gospel from Sunday. At times, I question why God permits certain things to happen, certain atrocities to be committed by other humans. Why does He create them at all?
Granted, this is a different situation than the Gospel, but it makes me pause and wonder. Am I envious that God generously creates everyone, even when I find it difficult to love people who willingly hurt others? Do I wish He applied a stricter test to people’s futures before He made them? I don’t think I do, but I question His level of generosity.
The love of the Lord is poured out so generously that I cannot fathom it. His ways are not my ways, which is good for all of creation. The communion of love found within the Trinity makes it so that God lacks nothing outside of Himself. All of creation is a sheer gift of generosity. Even God revealing Himself to us is a reality we do not deserve, but rather is His generous gift of self. Stopping at nothing, He pours Himself out on the cross and then remains with us in the humility of the Eucharist.
I’m not envious of His generosity so much as baffled by it.
Rather than compare the gifts the Lord generously bestows on me to the gifts He gives to others, I want to simply accept with open hands and open heart. Though I may feel like I am laboring in the vineyard for years while others slip in at the end, I want to remember that I am not a slave working for a master, but a daughter working at the knee of her father.
In a spirit of gratitude, I desire to marvel at the ways the Lord seeks to fulfill the desires of our hearts. And inspired by His generosity, I want to model that generosity to the Lord and others in my small ways.
Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.