Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 19:1-16)

“In the land where there are no eagles a grasshopper jumps and says, ‘I am an eagle.’” So runs an old Malay fable. Fables are stories which dramatize animals or other non-human entities in order to deliver a moral message. The reading from the Book of Judges today comprises a fable which approximates the one just mentioned. The issue is the appointment of a king over Israel. Useful trees like the olive and the fig refuse the honor of kingship so a buckthorn, which is no more than a bush, assumes the office. The buckthorn represents Abimelech, the cutthroat son of Gideon, who slaughtered seventy half-brothers to secure his throne. He proves consistent in maliciousness by burning alive the people of Migdal-shechem as the reading anticipates.

The moral offered by the story is that Israel should not seek a king but accept the kingship of God. Anything less will only bring heartache as the sequel of today’s passage shows. Jesus in the Gospel passage is preaching the kingship of God as well. He begins by the familiar statement, “The Kingdom of heaven is like ...,” and proceeds to tell the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Some of the workers, he says, grumble at the end of the story because the landowner -- the God-figure -- chooses to pay all his workers the same salary. Although it may seem unfair, Jesus only relates the supreme justice of God which enables every worker to provide for his family. The grumblers, on the other hand, insist on a more exacting although, in the end, less beneficent form of justice.

We have every reason to be wary of theocracies – that is, governments supposedly ruled by divine law. We need civil government to regulate the material goods of a society. But we should not be deluded into thinking that governments can make everyone good. For that to happen the grace of God is essential.