- Exodus 16: 2-15
Just two months after God’s spectacular deliverance of God’s people from slavery, they complain to their leaders: “If only we had died in Egypt, where we .. ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill the whole assembly with hunger.” The Lord tells Moses, “I am about to rain down bread from the heavens, and the people shall go out and gather each day’s share on that day, so that I may test them whether they will go by My teaching or not.” And, on the sixth day, the Lord will provide enough for two days. Moses and Aaron deliver the news to the people, telling them also that their “murmuring” against them is actually complaining about the Lord’s leadership. The Lord instructs Moses to tell the people they have been heard and they “shall have your fill of bread, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” “That evening, quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.” When the dew lifted, there was a “stuff fine, flaky….” The people say to each other, “‘Man hu, What is it’ For they did not know what it was.” Moses tells them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you as food.”
- Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45
This psalm reviews in poetry Israel’s memory of God’s powerful, generous “deeds” and “wonders” in the past, including the wondrous gift of “quail” and “bread from heaven” and water from a rock in the wilderness. These appointed verses mention the crisis in the wilderness when God not only saved Israel, but promised more than just what was needed. God “opened the rock and water flowed/it went forth in parched land as a stream.” All this was the continuing fulfillment of the Lord’s “holy word” to Abraham.
- Jonah 3: 10 – 4:11
Although Israel’s narratives traditionally privilege Israel as God’s favored, this story says God’s favor can be shown even to Israel’s enemies. Jonah is angry, very angry, angry enough to prefer to die rather than play any role in God’s favor to an enemy. God challenges Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah walks away to sit under a bush and seethe. God causes the bush to wither and die. Now Jonah is also angry about the bush that has abandoned him. God reminds Jonah that Jonah had nothing to do with the appearance or disappearance of the bush, alluding to the fact that only God decides when, where, how and on whom God shows favor.
- Psalm 145: 1-8
The psalmist vows to exalt/bless the Name of the Lord “everyday.” God’s “grandeur,” “wondrous acts,” “great goodness,” “grace” and “loving-kindness” inspire her and “one generation to the next.”
- Philippians 1: 21-30
Paul claims that sometimes he would rather welcome death as release from his complicated and sometimes dangerous life and the opportunity to “be with Christ.” But he labors on for the communities of believers like this one, the church in Caesarea Philippi. He offers himself as an example of the way they should welcome adversity when it accompanies their “salvation.”
- Matthew 20: 1-16
As Jesus and his followers get closer to Jerusalem, Matthew increases the tension and, alone among the canonical gospel writers, has Jesus tell this unforgettable, and somewhat disturbing, story. An employer unfairly pays all his workers the same. Those who have worked all day in the scorching heat are paid the same as those who showed up at the last minute and only worked minutes just before quitting time! When those who have worked the longest and hardest protest, the one who pays their wages says: “I choose to give to the last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
What is familiar in the story of Jonah as well as the story Jesus tells in Matthew’s narrative is human jealousy based on, what must be admitted, is a legitimate sense of unfairness; what is shocking in these stories is what they reveal about the true nature of God’s love. which shatters our sense of fairness. God’s love is unfair, excessive, extravagant, seemingly arbitrary. It is outrageous. It comes out of nowhere (like water out of stone or bread falling from the sky) and sometimes seems to go more to those in need rather than those who deserve it. It surpasses anything we have been satisfied with in the past (as God’s people discovered in the wilderness).
Jean-Luc Marion’s 2002 study, Being Given, has become a significant and fecund contribution to the work of others, both philosophers and theologians. He states that his sole purpose is to show that everything we experience as human beings is best understood “under the sign of giveness.” (p. 40) In step by step detail, he explains how we will understand ourselves more fully and our world if we see ourselves not as givers so much as “gifted.” This status is not something we earned or even deserved, it is the essence of life, the force that sustains life. Among the many implications of this insight, Marion demonstrates, we discover that we are not so much “producers” of meaning as “witnesses” to what exists, to what existed before we were born, and that sustains us everyday and will continue after we die. We do not “grasp” so much as we “receive.” We do not “define” life so much as we are “witnesses” to its wonders. We are sustained not as much by knowledge as we are by “surprise” and “wonder.” Finally, and perhaps most unexpected to those not familiar with Marion’s work, he says that we are not guided so much by “ethics” as we are by “love.” We understand ourselves best not so much by “self-positing” as by “surrender.”
This notion that we know ourselves best when we see ourselves as “gifted” did not originate with Marion. Husserl and Heidegger introduced the suggestion as the beginning of the last century. The works of Karl Barth and Hans urs von Balthasaar, among others, are seen as specific theological expansions of this notion. But Marion has renewed the earlier work of others and given it greater clarity. And once again it is opening fresh ways to understand the extravagant claims made throughout the biblical texts about the radical nature of God’s love. “God’s greatness cannot be fathomed” “I choose to give to the last the same as I give to you.” God’s goodness is like “water out of a stone.” Its unidentifiable source, sheer abundance and where it flows surprise and even startle us. We do not fret so much about the seeming arbitrariness of God’s goodness, generosity and love as we are constantly amazed at the wonder of it all and thoroughly delighted to discover that we are “gifted.”
Lent in the year 387 was a time of crisis for the church in Antioch. In his absence, the bishop asked an assistant, John, to lead the people. Throughout that Lent, John preached fervently. By the time the church in Antioch got to Easter, John preached a sermon that contributed to his earning the nick-name “golden mouth” or “Chrysostom.” With the story from Matthew’s gospel, which is our appointed gospel this Sunday, in his heart and mind, John preached at Easter:
“Whoever is weary of fasting, let him now receive his earnings. Whoever has labored from the first hour, let him today accept his just reward. Whoever has arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not fear the delay, for the Master is gracious: He receives the last even as the first; he gives rest to him that cometh at the eleventh hour as well as to him that has labored from the first, and to him that delayed. Therefore let everyone enter into the joy of the Lord! The first and the last, receive your wages. Rich and poor, dance with each other. The temperate and the slothful, honor this day. You who have fasted and you have not, rejoice this day! Let no one bewail his transgressions, for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let not one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.”
When something in our lives goes wrong, we complain, O God why me? When life is rich and full why then do we not ask, O God why me? God’s love is outrageous! Live with it!