God created us because he loves stories
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.
Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Master of the universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.”
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.”
Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “ I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.
As typhoon battered the country and the floods once again rose to the rooftops, I frantically searched for a story I could tell God so that misfortune can be averted. All I could think of were stories of the unmitigated greed and depravity of our leaders, or stories of self-righteous expectation that I might be rewarded with more because I have toiled longer in God’s vineyard.
In the Gospel story today, Jesus warns us not to think of God’s blessings as our due because of our personal worth or because of our good works. God’s generosity and compassion cannot be measured. We should always be ready to encounter the ways of God and think differently. This is difficult when we have spent a lifetime learning what kind of stories to tell, and then defending our point of view against all comers. Today’s story calls us to listen with care and respond to God’s promptings to help build the nation and avert disaster.
We should never resent God’s lavish generosity but, rather, rejoice that He has compassion for us all. God’s ways are not our ways, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. If we remain open to God doing something new, we will find the way out of the misfortune our country is in.
Readiness to work whenever the call comes
The complaint of the workers hired early makes it clear that this is an essential element of Jesus’ story: God’s generosity with the workers hired late does not align with ordinary human expectations for just compensation. But we can also see this story as a comment on the readiness of the laborers hired late. The day was almost over when they were hired, but they had remained ready and prepared. They were rewarded because they remained attentive when hope seemed gone.
No matter how late one heeds the call, moving from passion to real commitment and impact means doing the hard work in God’s vineyard of building and growing the kinds of independent and resilient institutions and networks that can offer new ways of thinking and doing, while at the same time leveraging power against the sinful forces that actively hold our dysfunctional society in thrall.
We face the reality that we all share a common fate on a crowded archipelago. This will require new forms of national cooperation. National cooperation will come to the fore because of the challenges of sustainable development – protecting the environment, stabilizing the population, narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, and putting an end to extreme poverty. Only in this cooperation can we overcome our country’s misfortune.
Overcoming national misfortune requires a revolution in consciousness, a radical transformation of one’s way of thinking for a coordinated nationwide response to catastrophic threats in the political, economic and environmental dimensions: shameless corruption, financial meltdowns, terrorism, heatwaves, superstorms, drought, water shortages, famine and pandemics, the destruction of the environment that is wreaking havoc on life support systems.
These dangers present a compelling call to be true to our moral responsibility to the nation. We need ethical values, moral guidance and reasoned principles for doing the right thing for the good of the country and to hand over to generations yet unborn a Philippines rich in life and possibility. Ensuring our luxury now at terrible cost to children and those yet to be born is not worthy of us as ethical beings. We have to craft sustainable food systems, invent renewable technologies and examine the moralities of absolute ownership if we are to honor our moral responsibility to the future.
The cosmic ccope of God’s call
Christianity maintains that God has to be one and triune in order for human beings to be fully themselves in a convergent universe. Thus in the Christian tradition, faith in God’s generosity and compassion can provide a sense of direction and evoke the energies needed to renew the face of the earth. We have done many things that were not in the best interests of human continuity. We need to seek reconciliation and healing to stop us from carrying this sinfulness into the future and passing its venom on to future generations.
Christians are called to work in God’s vineyard to transform the world. The death and rising of Christ is the paradigm for the cosmic process of transformation – it brings everything back together again not around or above suffering but straight through it.
Christianity is the story of transformation, both at the level of the human and at the level of the cosmos. And so, I can hear the story of Filipinos participating in the creation of a new world. I can hear the story of Filipinos taking part in the discovery, invention, naming, recovery, multiplication, production and just distribution of things, while appreciating the vastness of creation. I can hear the story of Filipinos helping ensure that humanity evolves justly and peacefully, in harmony with one another and the Creator’s design. I can hear the story of Filipinos witnessing to the generosity and compassion of the Master of the universe.
As we try to find the way out together, may we have the boldness to confront the social problems of our country and allow ourselves to embody our story as one people deeply enough that it transforms us all and our future together.
And as we journey towards the end-time, we pray to God who is consuming fire to let the fire fall: “Burn, penetrate, change, renovate, illumine. Do as you promised, as we work in your vineyard in Christ’s name.”