We often say religion and politics don’t mix. And it is true we must be careful to avoid the politicization of religious faith in such a way that religious faith becomes a vehicle to achieve political ends. However, at the same time, paradoxically we can never separate faith and politics as if we can behave one way in an internal world of spirituality and another way in the external world of civic affairs. Politics is about choices, and the choices we, ourselves, make cannot but be informed by our discipleship of the Lord. This will be something very important to consider carefully as we approach the forthcoming Referendum on constitutional change. To be otherwise is to develop a schizophrenia in our identity. Jesus calls us to live with an integrity that is forged out of our continuing conversion to his way of being in the world. It is a radical way of being, and one that operates on a very different logic than that which operates around us.
This Sunday we are given a parable. It is an economic parable in the sense that it is about the economy of the Kingdom of God. In this parable, though, the divine economy is presented as directly contradictory to the ordinary instincts which generate the human economy. The ordinary logic runs such that those who have done well and made the most contribution are those who are rightly rewarded for their labours; those who have done nothing receive nothing. Play the game, and get as much as you can. Yet, the parable Jesus tells us today flies in the face of such an economic notion. It turns everything upside down. How can those who have done so little receive just as much as those who have worked long and hard?
This is one of those parables which, because it is so incredible, acts to disrupt our ordinary way of thinking. What Jesus proposes confronts all that we ever considered as just and as economically responsible. In such a way, however, Jesus seeks to expose how easily we can get seduced by those principles of the human economy in which we are enmeshed. Because the principle that the one who works more should get more is the very air we breathe in our normal transactions, it is so easy for us, even unwittingly, to transfer this expectation into our life with God.
In presenting a story that overturns our ordinary expectations, Jesus forces the insight that the values of the Kingdom are not those of the human economy. Thankfully, God is not a part of the economy. God is not keeping score of what we have done or haven’t done. We cannot bargain our way into the kingdom of God; we cannot wager our way, or gamble our way. The strategies by which our human economy works have no oxygen from which to generate in our life with God. How hard it is for us to really believe that. In the Kingdom of God our ordinary practices generated by fear or by greed are turned upside down. As Megan McKenna once wrote “Individuality and self-worth and deals don’t work. What we do does not get us into the kingdom; we are part of the kingdom due solely to the generosity of God.” Our efforts, therefore, don’t win us anything. And that is shocking to us. And what is even more scandalous, is that those who seem to do the less, who shouldn’t be there because they haven’t done anything, the ones who have sitting around idle most of the day, are the very ones who are promoted as the exemplars.
Jesus shocks us out of our complacent notions of what wins in the end to emphasize that in in the Kingdom of God all counts on God’s love and God’s mercy and nothing else. Then, we might ask, why put in any effort, why strive at all, why try and be good. Why indeed? If it is to win something, it is to achieve something, albeit even heaven itself, then we are going to be so scandalised when we reach heaven that we might find ourselves even choosing not to enter it.
Whatever good we strive for then must be out of a sense of celebration for what we know we have already received from God. In the Kingdom of God, therefore, economics and gratitude are integrally linked. When our lives are a celebration of what we have received then they are marked by a simplicity which is essentially hospitable. We no longer need to feverishly acquire at all costs. We do not look on others in terms of what they have done, or what they have achieved, of how well they perform, how much they have acquired, how much power or control they have.
Only when control over others gives way to invitation of others, and greed give ways to gratitude, will we realise what makes us truly rich.
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