Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Memorial of Saint Pius X, pope

(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 large shrub, assumes the office.  The buckthorn represents Abimelech, the cutthroat son of Gideon.  He slaughtered seventy half-brothers to secure his throne and afterward burned alive the people of Migdal-shechem.  The reading anticipates the latter atrocity when it mentions fire coming from the buckhorn. 

The moral offered by the story is that Israel should not seek a king but accept the kingship of God.  Anything less will result in suffering for the poor as today’s gospel indicates.  Jesus begins the passage with the familiar statement, “The Kingdom of heaven is like...” He then 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 justice of God which allows every worker to provide for his family.  The grumblers, on the other hand, insist on a more exacting although less beneficial scale of compensation.

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 realize that civil governments must base policies on the common good.  This may sound simple but becomes technically complicated.  It assures the meeting of every person’s basic needs.