“The reign of God is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.”
The other night, during our bible study in confirmation class at the parish hall in Cimarron, where we are reading the Gospel of Mark, I asked the students, “What is the reign of God?” Without missing a beat, one of them said, “The kingdom of God is life.
I thought that was a great answer. For me, the reign of God is the fullness of life, the fullness of love, the fullness of peace, the fullness of compassion, the fullness of nonviolence, and it’s available not some day in some far off time, but today, here and now, if we dare welcome it in our hearts and midst.
Over the last twenty years, the Jesuits have been asking me and my friends, “What is your image of the reign of God? What is your image of God? How do you imagine God? These are great questions to reflect on.
Some people imagine God as God the father. Some people imagine God as a compassionate mother. Some people imagine God as Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom. Some people imagine the Great Spirit. Some people, like myself, imagine Jesus, welcoming us into his reign of nonviolence and peace.
But if we asked most people what they’re image of God was, they might say, “I don’t like God. I don’t believe in God. If anything, God is an old white man with a long white beard who’s really mad and angry and can’t wait to condemn us all and throw us into hell.” Doesn’t sound good.
The Gospel says that God is not like that at all, that God is completely different from what the world would have us believe, that God is not violent or judgmental or passive, but actively loving and nonviolent and merciful and peacemaking and just, that God is engaged here and now in the sufferings and struggles of the poorest people.
Jesus is constantly trying to help us imagine what the living God is really like, and what God’s reign is like. Today, he tells us this parable about a landowner who hires laborers to work in his vineyard at different times throughout the day, each one for a full day’s wage. At the end of the day, they all go to get paid, and the ones who worked since early in the morning presume they will get paid more than the ones who only worked an hour or so before sunset.
Instead, the landowner pays them all the same full amount. He takes pity on the poor ones who wanted to work but couldn’t find anyone to hire them. Some of them get mad and start to grumble and murmur, which is very bad in the Bible. So the landowner says, “I have not cheated you. There is no injustice here. I paid you what we agreed. So why are you mad at me, why are you grumbling? Are you envious because I am generous?”
We need to reflect on why we get mad at God and grumble over the way God does things, over God’s generosity, and instead move from grumbling to gratitude, and learn to be grateful for every gift from God, beginning with the gift of life itself, the gift of peace, the gift of nonviolence.
Everything is going to be different in the reign of God, according to Jesus. The economics of God’s reign are going to be completely different that ours. God is not stingy, greedy, or miserly like us. God does not hold back. God is completely generous. God pours out life and love upon us; there’s plenty for everyone, more than enough. God gives everyone what they need, especially the poor and marginalized. God wants to welcome everyone into God’s reign of peace and love, because God loves every human being on the planet.
Jesus is trying to teach us about God and God’s reign, to break down the world’s false image of God, to tell us the truth about God.
As I read the Gospel, I conclude that we do not have to be afraid of God, because contrary to what the world and the Pentagon will say, God is not a god of wrath and vengeance, but the God of mercy and forgiveness; not a god of retaliation but the God of reconciliation; not a god of hatred and anger, but the God of love and compassion; not a god of war and violence, but the God of peace and nonviolence; not a god of injustice and oppression, but the God of justice and liberation; not a god of death, but the living God of life.
The Gospel says, if we can begin to imagine the love, compassion and generosity of God; then we will begin to worship the God of love, compassion and generosity; and we too will become people of love, compassion and generosity; and we will find ourselves living in the fullness of life, God’s reign of nonviolent love, compassion and generosity, not some far off day, but today, here and now, and for the rest of our lives.