God’s generosity is about giving life, not about giving excess. Do we see the bigger picture?
Today we are given a clear insight into the link between happiness and generosity. Despite the pain and suffering in the world, God is always happy: because God is always generous.
I think it is fair to say, we are all looking for lasting happiness. And the Gospel helps us understand what it means to be generous. It seems counter-cultural, until we read what the First Reading reveals about God: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways.”
At first glance, you might think the generosity was giving some people more than they earned. But that is not the real issue. The land owner realised that these people standing idle for half the day still had to buy food for their family: and there were no social benefits at that time.
So, getting paid for half a day, 2 hours or for only 1 hour, would have left the men and their family hungry. God’s generosity is based upon the bigger picture. Too often, ‘us little people’ have small minds and short tempers, so we don’t see the bigger picture.
My time in Indonesia (1991), opened my eyes to similar wisdom revealed by the poorer people. And, later, I saw the same thing in the Philippines and Africa. When a poor person gets food, and knows their neighbour is hungry, they will usually share something with the hungry family.
Poorer people see the bigger picture. And in that sense, although they may not be ‘successful’ in the eyes of the world, they are very ‘fruitful’ in the eyes of God. In Genesis, God told us to be fruitful. Most of us think that means reproduce. Which it did and does. But that is a very limited understanding of being fruitful.
When the land owner gave more than required to the men who worked less hours he was being fruitful by sustaining the families of those men who started late. When the men who worked all day complained, they were looking at their small ‘picture,’ and forgetting how their community would be poorer if other families died of starvation.
Communities are a source of strength for every member. This is what the so called western developed world has forgotten. Money has given people a false sense of independence.
People have become very successful, but not necessarily fruitful. There is a lovely elderly lady in Kenya who developed a security company over the last 50 years. She pays her people well. They are well trained, and most employees stay with her company for many, many years.
She could be like other companies who make more money by being less generous to their employees: getting short term financial ‘success.’ But because she has always been ‘fruitful,’ her success has lasted for many years. As costs increase and Clients don’t want to pay more, she chooses to cut her profit margin, rather than cut wages or terminate employees.
The security personnel never steal from Clients and this protects her reputation and ensures ongoing success. Our generosity can build a secure community in which our families are safe, and we can continue to be successful in a worldly sense. On the other hand, if we are less generous, we contribute to a less secure community.
Right now in Kenya, as the economy gets worse, and unemployment increases, people are afraid that violence and crime will increase. Perhaps it is an opportunity, for those who have a job, to be generous and help sustain the poorer families around them. As St Paul says in the Second Reading: “but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake.”
This is in marked contrast to the world around us: money is seen as the sign of success. But our thirst for money often destroys our fruitfulness and we become failures. A corrupt and wealthy man died in Kenya about 20 years ago, a lonely and unloved death. Many wealthy families suffer great sadness as their children get addicted to drugs, etc.
The land owner was strict with the men who worked “all day in the hot sun”. He did not give more than was agreed, because it was enough for the men to care for their families. The land owner was generous but not wasteful. How about ourselves? Do we see the bigger picture?
One area we could improve on is casual workers. They are usually low paid, with no allowance for holidays or medical insurance. As Religious, especially, we should consider what our regular employees get paid, and the cost of medical insurance for them. Let us be fruitful and consider their needs, especially when they work for several weeks, rather than one or two days.
Often, I know, we give people a job when we don’t really need them, so they can get something. That is also being fruitful and generous. As we go forward from here, can we give life? Because the life you save today, will be a blessing for us tomorrow.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI