By Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S.
Arriving at Brunnerdale High School Seminary at the tender age of 14, I entered a vast ocean of experiences, sometimes the waves throwing me onto the shore, and sometimes dragging me out into the deep. Trying to fight the onset of homesickness, I wandered into our spiritual reading library, located just off the chapel, hoping that my immersion in holy literature would slow the tears.
For some reason, a little wisp of a book caught my attention. The text was already 11 years old when I laid my fingers to the spine in 1972, but its title and content continue to challenge me now 62 years since its original publication. I speak of J. B. Phillips’ Your God Is Too Small.
Such is the challenge at the heart of Matthew’s wonderfully annoying parable of the landowner and his hired workers. Truth be told, when faced with similar situations of uneven distribution of material, physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional goods in our own lives, I suspect we answer the landowner’s question, “Are you envious because I am generous?” with a rousing, “You’re darn right I am!”
The prophet Isaiah and the words of Psalm 145 clearly lay out the vastness of God’s qualities: generous, forgiving, gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abundantly kind, compassionate—and all of these are the channels through which God’s justice flows.
Our God is too small when our sense of God’s justice is measured on scales intended to “balance.” Our God is too small when we argue with God that God hasn’t been “fair.” Our God is too small when we are humbled to receive God’s gracious mercy but are unwilling to see it dispensed to those whom we feel haven’t yet “paid the price” for their sins. Our God is too small when we call down the “wrath of God” on those whom we believe deserve the heat because of their poor choices. Our God is too small when we see God’s presence in one set of people more than in another set of people.
Mercy, prodigal forgiveness, reconciliation, giving more than is deserved—all speak of our God, whose gestures of love and healing are never cramped. Should these qualities of God seem strange to our Community, which is rooted in the charism of Christ’s kenotic gift of his Blood? I hope not.
Moved by the self-emptying, expansive gift of Christ’s Blood on the Cross, we are invited into an expansion of our minds and hearts. Paul speaks to the Philippians of “magnifying Christ”—enlarging the Christ who dwells within and around us through the bountiful grace of the Holy Spirit. We will find a greater capacity to embrace a larger rather than smaller God, the more we magnify Christ in our seeing, thinking and deciding.
So many years ago, I found comfort as a timid, homesick teenager in the yellowed pages of J. B. Phillip’s tiny little book because he introduced me to a God who was large enough to embrace what I was too small to grasp.
In those closing words the landowner speaks to his grumbling servants, we find the invitation to gratefully embrace the expansive generosity and justice of a God whom we often make too small.
Can we move from grumbling to gratitude?
Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S., is the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Melbourne Beach, Fla. He is also a member of the provincial council of the Missionaries’ United States Province.