AUGUST 17, 2005, CROZET: MATTHEW 20:1- 16

WHAT IF I WISH TO GIVE THIS LAST ONE THE SAME AS YOU? ARE YOU ENVIOUS BECAUSE I AM GENEROUS? Human justice is an elusive and uncertain reality. Few matters, nonetheless, are more fundamental to our sense of security than that we can count on receiving what is due to us. This holds true in small affairs as in issue of great import, in questions of honor and respect as in material matters. Justice is one of the four fundamental or cardinal virtues; it pervades our social and personal relations though we rarely advert to it explicitly. As we enter into association with another, what we owe to him or her evolves proportionately to the extent of our mutual dealings. Whether it be an employer with his worker, a friend with a friend, a wife with her husband even a mother and her child, mutual obligations arise as bonds are formed, and where there are obligations, there justice is engaged. In some limited instances the terms defining the precise nature of these duties are formally agreed upon; in the vast majority of cases, though, the requirements of justice depend upon the sensibility of each partner.

It is too much to expect that both will always sense in the same manner and to the same degree what fidelity to the other requires. For fidelity depends in large measure on cultivating a refined sense for justice. I recall an amusing instance that strikingly illustrates this principle. Some seven years after I entered he monastery my closest friend, a man of much charm, came to visit me. He had married a young woman I knew quite well shortly after I had become a monk, and so quite naturally, I inquired about her and their married life. He replied that they had been very happy together and were good for one another. There was only one incident that caused her to get really upset with me. A year or so after we married I went on a trip for a medical meeting and met a very attractive young lady who soon showed interest in knowing me better. So I arranged to spend some time in engaging conversation but was careful not to let her know I was married. In other words I was flirting with her. Nothing more came of it until I returned home and thinking it over felt a little guilty. So I decided that though it was nothing serious Iíd mention it to my wife. She, though, took it very seriously and really got angry with me.

What seems just and fair, or a minor matter to one often is perceived by another as rank injustice. My youngest brother has sat on the bench as a judge for some 25 years. He seems to have a real charism and rarely has a decision overturned. He was recently voted the most effective judge in the state by the lawyers and the people have elected him all five times he ran for office. Yet he told me not long ago, only half jesting, that half the persons whose cases he decides think he made a bad decision and get angry with him.

Todayís Gospel takes up the issue of justice by means of a striking parable that certainly is true to life. More accurately, our Lord confronts perceived injustice in order to correct the self-centered egoism that leads us to discover cause for complaint because we wrongly interpret some act as unfair. It is not difficult to understand those who complain; it is very human to anticipate special favors when we see others receiving them from the one dispensing gifts. Anticipation readily become a demand; the demand seems to be a right. Failure to receive the favor is felt as sheer injustice. We spontaneously evaluate otherís behavior from our own point of view that we fail to notice we are out of touch with the reality that the other is living. Children, of course, react that way quite naturally. It requires the application of considerable thought even to view situations in which I am involved from anotherís perspective, and still greater effort to view that perspective with sympathy. Our Lord makes it clear that The heavenly Father expects us to learn to do just that; even more, to rejoice at the good fortune of the one who receives a special benefit even when we fail to receive the same favor. Only when we come to know by experience how good God is to us, what we owe to Him who is all holy and wise can we trust Him enough to be content with the provisions He makes for our well-being. Todayís text reveals Godís generosity; the Eucharist we offer and receive is an encounter with his willingness to give His very self to us in the person of His Son. May we show our gratitude by extending to others the gifts of His favor and love and offer our praise Him for his goodness to us and to all his children.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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