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Justice and the Kingdom

On the Readings for Sunday, September 27, 2020

(Image: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash.com)

Readings:
• Ez 18:25-28
• Psa 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
• Phil 2:1-11
• Matt 21:28-32

Growing up I heard countless admonishments from my parents—all of them deserved, I readily confess. One that has stuck with me is a simple, commonsensical remark made many times by my mother: “Life is not always fair.” A variation of this was, “You don’t always get what you want.” And, sure enough, I didn’t always get what I wanted.

As a parent, I sometimes think of those remarks when my young son says, “That’s not fair!” This is usually uttered with great frustration and often after some conflict with his older sister. And she, of course, often responds in kind: “It’s not fair that he gets to play with that toy!”

Our sensitivity—or hyper-sensitivity, as the case might be—to being treated unfairly hardly diminishes as we grow up and become adults. On the contrary, we often develop more elaborate and sophisticated ways of discovering real or perceived injustices. We recognize that today’s reading from the prophet Ezekiel offers a true picture of the human condition and complaint: “The Lord’s way is not fair!” How often do we think that God is being unfair to us, even unjust? Are we occasionally tempted to mutter to ourselves, “It’s not fair that God is putting me through this difficult situation”?

It has been rightly noted by many wise men that there are two ways to approach God and reality. We can either try to conform them to ourselves and our desires, or we can conform ourselves to God and reality. Put another way, we can ask, as God did of the house of Israel, is it God’s way that is unfair, or rather, are not our ways unfair?

Jean Cardinal Daniélou (1905-1974), a French theologian much admired by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, once wrote that “God’s justice, according to the Bible, has nothing in common with the communicative justice that governs relationships between men, and the mistake lies precisely in wishing to apply such a criterion to the relationship between God and men” (God and the Ways of Knowing, [Ignatius Press, 2003], 96). One the lamentable errors often made by man is thinking that he deserves to have rights before God. This is not to say that God’s justice arbitrary or malleable. On the contrary, the Catechism reminds us, “In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice are all identical. Nothing therefore can be in God’s power which could not be in his just will or his wise intellect” (CCC 271).

The parable of the two sons, proclaimed in today’s Gospel, reveals this truth in a simple, powerful manner. To work in the vineyard is to pursue the will of God, to strive for holiness and to pursue justice. One son says he will not work the vineyard, but then changes his mind; the other son gives lip service, but fails to enter the vineyard. This is a picture of the Pharisees—who said the right things but failed to do them—and those sinners who acknowledged their need for God and acted accordingly.

It is also a depiction of each one of us, who are sinners. We are invited by the Father to work the vineyard, to enter the Kingdom of God. What will we say? More importantly, what will we actually do? “Words are not enough,” the Catechism pointedly explains, “deeds are required” (CCC 46).

“Justice and the Kingdom,” wrote Daniélou, “are one and the same thing.” Why? Because both are gifts from God drawing us into His fatherly love. “God’s justice is not defined with reference to man. It is the faithfulness of love to itself.” Human justice will sometimes fail and life will in fact often be unfair. We won’t always get what we want.

But, then, the question for us should be different: What does God want for us and from us? And what should we, children born of grace, say in return? Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the September 28, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1142 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

5 Comments

  1. Only nowadays it’s quite a stretch to say that God’s ways are just when there are plentiful examples of the wicked, the phony Catholics, those who reject and have contempt for God prospering and increasing in prosperity and privilege and power, while the faithful in the Church suffer for their faithfulness. Nope. That’s not right, and I’m getting tired of people uttering the cliche, “God’s timing is always perfect.” or, “God is good all the time.” Look around. Open your eyes. See what’s happening in the Church herself, for crying out loud.

    • Nowadays? That sort of thinking and frustration has been with mankind since the Fall. In fact, much of Scripture reflects the frustrations expressed by holy people in the face of great injustices. The Psalmist declares, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (Ps 82:2), which is representative of many of the Psalms.

      But does the Psalmist or the Prophets abandon God? Does Job turn his back on God despite his many trials? No. And part of the reason they do not is because they recognize that the sins of mankind do not undermine or abolish the goodness of God, but actually indicate the great gift of free will and uncoerced love.

      Look around. Open your eyes. See what’s happening in the Church herself, for crying out loud.

      I suspect you are new here. I’ve been a Catholic for nearly 25 years and editor of CWR for nearly 10 years. I’ve seen and read a lot. If I confused the actions of men with the reality of God, I would be gone a long time ago. Newman said that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. I’d add that to be deep in Scripture and history is to cease to blame God.

  2. Around the 44th anniv. of the visit to these shores of two faithful workers in the vineyard , with the hearts of the children rather than of workers of The King and Queen – St.John Paul 11 and Mo. Teresa and of the famous prophetic words of the former , about the confrontation between ‘The Church and the anti Church ‘ –

    https://www.ncregister.com/commentaries/john-paul-ii-s-warning-on-final-confrontation-with-the-anti-church

    Family and marriage as the vineyards , with the Divine Will that reigned in the Holy Family , its purity and innocence , in beholding each other in holiness , to help undo the carnal fires all around – our times in much need of same .

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Up_nAMGMC2o

    Those who desire to take the reins of the nation , by blessing and advocating paths of peace through holiness , instead if they advise paths of fear and evil , – not hard to see the wolves in sheep’s clothing .

    The prayer intention of the Holy Father for Sept , for care for creation , that would include every bit of creation , human souls and bodies , the air and the earth – http://popesprayerusa.net/popes-intentions/

    Joining same , to thus multiply its blessings , since God’s mercy as His Will is exponentially unfathomable for our limited minds , to help us to become more trusting in His goodness and power , to help the coming of The Kingdom …
    to help families too who could fall for despair and distancing ..

    Thank God for those who try to be faithful in various ways , including mercy and hope extended to the fallen … afflicted by human weaknesses , in a Kingdom where good and evil , including the carnal evils of those around too likely having its effects at many levels …even as far as delaying The Coming ..

  3. Cardinal Daniélou’s faithfulness of love to itself, a key reference by the author, has watershed meaning. Abraham’s Faith was judged Justice by the Apostle. Faith here giving God his due. God, who is Love itself alone is justifiably true [faithful] to himself defining Justice. Fathoming deeper obedience to God’s will is not at all easy. It’s easy to proclaim that willingness another matter to follow. It requires honesty to admit that, and to be hesitant when we realize what God asks. Abnegation, often pain and suffering. Christ accepted that for us, and left us the example we must follow. That seems coercive and in a sense it is, although to fulfill this it can only be done freely by love. Many of us are initially motivated by less. John tells us love is not yet perfect if we’re motivated by fear. At a time of deepening darkness, at times a light like the nomination of Amy C Barrett, a woman whose life reminds us of the ever present good among us, of faith and justice, of divine love, the gifts of the Holy Spirit that enamor.

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