Sunday, 18 September 2011

Harvest Festival, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 18th Sept 2011, Shaftesbury

Mt 20:1-16; Isa 55:6-9
Today we are keeping our annual "harvest festival" when we give thanks to God for the gifts we received in the harvest, and, through that, for all the gifts we have received.
This year, in particular, I want to make reference to the warning we received in the words from our Lord, the warning against envy -envy of what others have received their harvest.

Most of us are quite aware that many of the things we receive in life we receive as a result of our labours. And yet, we can often also be aware that we do not receive the same amount as other people who seem to do the same amount of work. Sometimes we can feel just like those labourers mentioned in today's gospel: that we have worked long and hard, that we have worked under the heat of the sun, and yet we have little or less than others we see.

How should this make us feel? One way that it CAN make us feel is ENVIOUS. Envy, according to the definition of the great St Thomas Aquinas, who is quoted by the catechism on this point, "envy is sadness at the sight of another's goods" (CCC 2553; ST II-II q36): I see my neighbour has something that I do not have, and I feel SAD that he has it, because I somehow imagine that the fact that he has something means that I therefore do not have that same thing. All of us, if we are honest, have had this feeling at least sometimes.

I want to point out two things about envy. First, envy is a very destructive thing in that it gives birth to a whole plethora of other sins, thus envy is called a ‘capital’ sin. At its worst, envy of my neighbour leads to hatred of my neighbour. Second, I want to point out the envy does not bring us happiness: this SADNESS at the good of another only increases within us if we do not attempt to restrain it, and this sadness does us no good.

There are two alternative ways that I can respond to seeing that my neighbour has some good that I do not have. If I love my neighbour, I can rejoice for his sake that he has this good thing –even if I do not. Also, to come back to the point the Lord made in today's gospel, I can remind myself that everything I have I have only because of the generosity of the Lord. Even those things that I have as a consequence of my labours, even those things I only have because I have used the things that were first GIVEN to me, and more: my very work I only do thanks to the grace from the Lord that gives me the strength to do it.
ALL is gift; we have no ability to make claims on God. And this is something we need to remind ourselves of again and again and again.

This said, we are THINKING beings, and we do so easily let our thoughts churn away at imagining how WE think God should do things. At such times, we can do well to repeat to ourselves the words we heard in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, that that "my thoughts are not your thoughts... my thoughts [are] above your thoughts”(Isa 55:9). In this context, what I mean by this is that it is good to remember that the Lord DOES have His reasons –we shall see them fully in the next world, and even in this world it is good to remember that often someone who SEEMS to have more actually has less, or has less of other things, or has less of the things that matter MOST -like the spiritual goods last forever.

So, as we recall the harvest today, let us give thanks to God for the gift of the harvest that WE have, and, let us not look at what OTHERS have, and if we do look, let us not give way to envy, let us not be sad at our neighbour’s good, rather let us rejoice with our neighbour in the good that he has.

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