Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)
Audio for homily
Some years back I offered you my “Snickers Bar Theology”
which I was taught not in the seminary
but at my mother’s kitchen table.
These scriptures on God’s fairness bring it to mind again.
When my sister and I were children and it came to sharing a treat,
like a Snickers bar, my mother would say,
“OK – one of you gets to cut the Snicker bar in half
and the other one gets to choose first between the two pieces.”
You can imagine the caution, the care, the precision with which
one of us cut that candy bar in two, being oh-so-careful that
neither piece come out the slightest bit larger than the other.
When I was the one cutting the candy bar
I wanted to make sure of two things:
1) that I get my fair share
2) and that my sister didn’t get so much as a speck more
than her fair share.
Unfortunately, experiences like this
can shape our life-long notions of fairness.
(And let’s not miss the fact that fairness [as understood here]
is first and foremost protective of self-interest,
carefully guarding against the possibility that someone else
should ever have a share greater than mine.)
We easily carry this notion of fairness into other realms of life:
to school; to our workplace; and to the marketplace.
A Snickers bar philosophy of fair sharing can end up shaping:
our views on the economy; our politics on immigration;
and personal relationships in our marriages and families.
In the first scripture today God asked if it were he who’s unfair – or us.
And the discomforting answer to that question is: it’s us!
If God dealt with me
the way I dealt with my sister and that Snickers bar,
I’d be in deep trouble.
But God’s fairness is not self-protective, it doesn’t measure tit-for-tat,
it’s not jealous of what others have or might receive,
and it is certainly not miserly.
Rather, God’s “fairness” is self-emptying;
it forgives our selfishness and offers us more than we deserve;
God’s fairness is generous beyond any weight or measure.
God’s fairness is characterized by: a mercy we have no right to expect;
a mercy we cannot earn; a mercy we are freely given;
by a mercy we’re expected to share with one another,
especially when the other stands before us
poor, defenseless and in need,
which is just how we all stand before God.
God calls us to a “fairness” that offers the other:
more than an equal share;
more than the other deserves;
more than the other might merit.
Being fair with others as God is fair with us
demands much more than simply dividing things down the middle,
even if, in many instances, that would be a giant step forward.
To return to my childhood illustration,
had my sister and I imitated God’s fairness in sharing that Snickers:
I would have cut the two pieces unevenly,
offering my sister the opportunity to choose a larger share
and she, having first dibs, would have chosen the smaller piece,
leaving the larger one for me.
Something inside us is silently screaming, “But that’s not fair!”
(And no – my sister and I never did it that way.)
But I propose this to you this morning to help us see
how God is “fair” with us in his generous and forgiving mercy.
And that’s what the Lord asks of us in our dealings with one another:
to go beyond the inclination to protect self-interest
and to put the other first, ahead of ourselves.
Or as St. Paul wrote to us in the second scripture:
In compassion and mercy… do nothing out of selfishness…
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each of you looking out not for your own interests
but also for those of others.
God’s fairness in dealing with us is as more an affair of the heart
than it is an accounting of our deeds.
The first son in the gospel parable today
totally dissed his father, flipped him off -
but then had a change of heart and did what was asked of him.
The other son said the right thing with his lips -
but his heart wasn’t in it and he failed doing his father’s will.
If we want to know how God is “fair” in dealing with us,
we have only to look to the Cross
to see that Jesus, the Son who always did his Father’s will,
gave away everything for us who, in our willfulness,
deserved nothing at all.
We pray in the shadow of Christ who gave us all he had to give.
And even now does Jesus, this morning, continue to give of himself
as he is broken and poured out, divided and emptied for us
in the gift of the bread and wine of the Eucharist,
keeping nothing for himself but giving all for us.
May the generous share of Christ’s love which is ours in this sacrament
move us to be more than fair and generously merciful
in loving one another as we have been loved.
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