25 Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2020
A 35-year-old “tech billionaire” named Sean Parker was recently interviewed. He used the interview as an opportunity to send out a “wake-up call” to the super wealthy. In his opinion, the ultrarich need to jump in and take a much more aggressive role in solving the earth’s mounting problems which pose a real threat to the health and well-being of all humankind…with the most immediate impact on the poor.
What he seems to be saying is that, presently, philanthropy…charitable giving…is just another “industry.” Those investing expect some kind of payback, be it their name on a building, an invitation to a costly celebration honoring their contribution, or a tax break. Parker is challenging the super wealthy to give without expecting any personal benefit, motivated only by the desire to benefit humanity.
Parker is quoted as saying: “I find it very strange when I look at entrepreneurs or successful business people who had a huge impact largely by being risk-averse, largely by taking chances. But when they make that switch to being philanthropist, they suddenly become very conservative.”
What he is suggesting is that those who control the world’s wealth identify some social issue, some serious problem we wrestle with as a society…and then, without concern for personal benefit or gain, put their experience and skill, resources, influence, knowledge, as well as their wealth to the task of finding a solution. In my opinion, no matter how successful Parker has been in business, this is going to be a hard sell. For most, the satisfaction of generosity seems to be in recognition, appreciation, and gratitude….and of course…tax breaks.
Today’s First Reading makes this young idealist’s interview worth our attention. Through Isaiah, we are told: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says The Lord.
It would be interesting to learn how many of the ultra wealthy share Parker’s lofty thoughts. He acknowledges that his “thoughts” are disruptive to the conventional way the rich do charity. Is it possible that folks who have amassed great fortunes by taking great risks will be persuaded to be as adventurous when it comes to sharing what they have accumulated? Only time will tell.
At this point, we can say two things with certainty: First of all, the global problems are not going to miraculously disappear. And, without knowing anything about his faith background or spiritual beliefs, Sean Parker appears to be…as our Second Reading concludes…Conducting himself in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel.
Those who were present when Jesus told this parable…especially those who made their living doing hard, manual labor, most probably shook their heads in disbelief. How can this possibly be fair? Even today, after generations of study and reflection, after hearing countless homilies attempting to explain this little story, our thoughts tell us that the workers who spent the entire day laboring in the hot sun were treated unjustly.
Actually, what’s hard to understand is just why it’s so difficult to understand what Jesus is telling us in this little story. Throughout Scripture, God self-reveals, assuring us of lavish generosity and infinite compassion and love. This is just one more attempt on God’s part to give us a glimpse of The Divine Nature.
I heard another billionaire interviewed this week. Bill Gates, during an episode of the podcast “Armchair Expert,” was asked to share his feelings about his long-time rival, Steve Jobs. He spoke in glowing terms making three memorable points.
First of all, he admired Jobs’ ability to find and recruit the best people to get the work done. Although Jobs was not known as being easy to work for, Bill Gates applauds his ability to motivate the team he assembled to achieve his goals.
Finally, Gates praised Jobs’ gift as a public speaker. What’s this got to do with our Readings?
Well, The Lord has an unparalleled ability to assemble the best people…workers in the vineyard…those most capable of getting the work done…THE WORK OF BUILDING THE CITY OF GOD. By your Baptism, you are part of “the team.” The work of discipleship is hard…there is nothing harder…and the work is usually its own reward, at least during the present age.
Still, disciples are highly motivated. Grace inspires authentic disciples to be risk-averse…taking chances…aggressive in their efforts to make The Lord’s goal…that all humankind might live in dignity and peace…a reality. Disciples are adventurous and tireless in sharing the Good News, sometimes speaking out, but more often broadcasting the Gospel simply by living it.
I think the takeaway from this Sunday’s Readings is that you don’t have to be a billionaire to change the world. Faithful discipleship is all it takes to build the City of God…where ALL are valued and respected and shown compassion and love…without counting the cost.