Father Richard preaches about Jesus’ invitation to undeserved mercy, a worldview at odds with our entire economic system. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Matthew 20:1–16).
Another familiar parable is the story of laborers who arrive at the last hour and get paid as much as the ones that began work at the first hour. Let’s be honest: None of us who are “worker-bees” appreciate this story. All of us would think that if we bore the burden of the day’s heat working than we would deserve more than someone else. Yet this passage makes it clear that the landowner promised them what was fair, they agreed to the deal, and he gave them the usual wage.
We call this reaction a sense of entitlement. Many Americans have it, especially if we grew up rather comfortable. When we grow up comfortable, we think we deserve. We think we have a special right. We would be offended if we didn’t get our bonus or our raise. We all think we deserve just a bit more; this really creates a high degree of unhappiness and anger in our society. Of course, Jesus always turns everything on its head, ending with the punch line: “Those that you think are the last might well be first” (Matthew 20:16). We’d better be ready to be surprised. The way most of us measure things—especially if we are privileged and comfortable—demonstrates that we might in fact not love God at all, but just ourselves.
There’s only one way to get us out of this meritocracy and entitlement. Once in our lives we have to experience undeserved love at a deep, gut level. Where we didn’t merit it, we weren’t worthy of it; in fact we were unworthy of it, and we got it anyway. That’s called mercy. Only the experience of divine mercy breaks down this entire way of counting. And that’s what we do—we’re all counters. We are! We think to ourselves, “You gave this much, so you deserve this much.”
Every such expectation is a resentment waiting to happen. When we expect, we’re soon going to resent it when we don’t get what we think we deserve. So, what the Gospel says is “Stop expecting!” Entitlement is lethal for the soul. Everything is a gift—one hundred percent pure gift. The reason any of us woke up this morning had very little to do with us and everything to do with God. All twenty-four hours today are total gift. And so, the only real prayer is to say “Thank you!” and to keep saying it. When our prayer is constantly “Thank you,” and we know we deserve nothing, and that everything is a gift, we stop counting. Only when we stop counting and figuring out what we deserve, will we move from the world of merit into the wonderful world of grace. And in the world of grace, everything is free.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Who Deserves Anything?,” homily, September 21, 2014.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on the gift economy.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.
Story from Our Community:
I am finding a lot of lived Truth in the Daily meditations. I am a 91-year-old man, and I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to your body. Listening to your body and to God are quite similar and require quieting the mind. Once you learn it is possible, listening is simple and easy. —Reed H.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.