(Creative Commons Image by Riccardo Cuppini on Flickr)
Dear Working Preachers,
“Are you envious because I am generous?” reads the latter section of 20:15 in this Sunday’s parable from Matthew. Or, literally in Greek, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” Jesus has already warned of the dangers of having an evil eye, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matt 6:22-23)
Wow, is this ever an entry into the soul. Yikes.
The eyes are indeed a window into the soul. Looking into someone’s eyes? We instinctively know that there’s something different in that experience; something we will intuit that we have not noticed; something we sense that cannot be determined by observation alone. What people see in our eyes is beyond what they see externally. This can be disconcerting. Even frightening. It’s difficult to pretend with our eyes. There’s a lot we can feign with our voice, our body and gestures, our expressions. But the eyes? That’s harder. Maybe impossible. We look down, look away. There’s a reason when we avoid eye contact. Because to see into someone’s eyes is indeed to see into the soul. Perhaps what you see is not understandable or explainable in the moment, but you do indeed see. Something true. Something hidden. Something deep.
And what will others see that you do not want to reveal? That you have avoided? That you have tried desperately to hide? Or what is it that you wish people would see, if they just looked, really looked, through your eyes and into your soul? These might be some questions worth answering this week.
And, if you get a chance to look into the eyes of God? What is at the heart of God? What will you see looking into God’s very soul? Well, at least according to this parable, you will see generosity. Sheer generosity.
And, according to this parable, we may not like what we see.
Because in the end, sheer generosity? Unexplainable, unfathomable, generosity?
For no reason at all? No way we can get our heads around that. Why? What’s so hard?
Because while we want to believe in generosity, what it is and what it represents, we can’t.
I think we have a fundamental discomfort with, even a suspicion of, generosity.
Here’s the rub of this parable. That generosity is not something to be understood. And that we have an inherent resistance in receiving generosity. Because our human nature is then to anticipate a quid pro quo situation; to assume that we did something to deserve this generosity.
We don’t even know how to respond to true generosity. “Really? Me? Why? For no reason? Are you sure? What did I do? What can I do?”
So we relegate generosity to equality. To accountability. To measurability. And in the process we end up deconstructing generosity. Discounting it as mere gratitude. Demeaning the abundance that it displays, making that which is illimitable and inestimable thereby determinate and quantifiable.
This parable is a reminder of the absolute gift of generosity that does not demand response, that does not account for reciprocity, that does not calculate metrical measures. Because then generosity is not generous. By definition, generosity is not measurable, accountable, or calculable.
Therein lies the point of the parable.
That God is about unreckonable grace. Grace, by definition, cannot be computable. God’s generosity is exemplified in this parable but also extends beyond it.
I am not sure that this parable is asking of us the same. I am not convinced that we have the capacity to live out generosity in its truest form, a generosity that cannot be defined or determined by assessable or computable reciprocity.
Yet we know and experience these realities. So well. The need for generosity as both received and extended. The desire for generosity sensed as unmerited and unexpected. The urge to be generous to others that does indeed come from our very soul that knows the truth about God. So, we can try. We can tap into that sense of generosity as an extension of the welcome and hospitality and love and abundance we have experienced in God’s urgent advances to be in relationship with us. Even if fleeting, perhaps we can extend generosity, not so much for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of the other who might then get to see into the eyes of God and get a glimpse of God’s very heart and soul.
This week, I pray too, that you may get a glimpse as well.