A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

How much giving is too much?

     Given the rough economic situations in which we live, I find myself overwhelmed by so many organization asking for money.  Your name is passed around from group to group,  and the increase in requests seems to be  expanding   exponentially.  What criteria does one employ to choose which will be the organization that will get your paltry, but hard earned, cash?  One criterion could be that of giving to organizations that equate your own list of priorities.  Another could be not giving to those organizations who make you feel guilty for not giving to them.

     But a more crucial criterion could be that of asking and answering the question, “Why do I give?”  Being cognizant of the motive for giving could give the giving itself a significant meaning.  Looking at the prophet Hosea (14:4; 14:5 in Hebrew), we note that when God expresses his love for the Israelites, in spite of their malfeasance, he says, “…I will love them freely.”  The Hebrew word for “freely” comes from the root ndb which means “freely willing; unconditional.”  That is to say that God’s love for Israel is unconditional because it is freely given.

     In today’s Gospel (25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Matthew 20:1-16),  Jesus’ parable is about a landowner who spends the whole day hiring laborers to work in his vineyard.  He offers them a just wage so that no one feels cheated.  All agree to the working conditions.  At the end of the day when payment time comes, the last are paid a full day’s wage.  This catches the eye of those who came early in the morning, thinking they will receive much more since they have borne the burden of the day’s heat.

     However, the landowner pays them the same amount, a full day’s wage, a sum to which they had agreed.  Yet, these first-to-come workers are unhappy and somewhat grumply.  The landowner righteously states that he had done nothing wrong.  It turns out that the unhappiness and grumpiness of the laborers are due not to the issue of justice, but to the generosity of the landowner.

     God is generous to us all.  Yet, he is more generous to some than to others.  I strongly suspect that the more talents one has, the more is expected of that person.  When you stop to think about it, it appears that the laborers were functioning under the principle of conditionality, that is, work is conditioned on a sliding scale.  Nevertheless, Hosea and Jesus spoke of operating under the principle of unconditionality.  I do something because I want to not because I have to.

     How would it be if we dealt with our relatives, friends, and neighbors in terms of loving and giving?  It would be conditional if I did it because I had to.  It would be unconditional if I did it because I wanted to.  This latter situation is real generosity.  Therefore, I wouldn’t have to worry about giving too much to anyone.

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