Mystical Word | A Weekly Reflection

Mystical Word is a weekly reflection based on the Sunday Gospel reading, written by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

Divine Gratuity

This week, we meditate on the theme of divine gratuity, God’s extravagant love.

In the 1980’s Richard Pryor starred in a movie called Brewster’s Millions. He played a lower class everyday guy from New Jersey named Monty Brewster who receives word that his uncle is dead and has left him his vast wealth. Only, the uncle says he wants to teach Brewster a lesson about saving money. So, he tells Brewster—via a video will—that he has to spend $30 million dollars in 30 days. The uncle wants Brewster to be sick of spending money. If he is able to spend that much in 30 days, he gets $300 million. So, Brewster starts wasting money immediately. He redefines the terms extravagant and gratuitous. He shells out thousands to stay in the best hotel. He rents hundreds of suits. He buys everyone dinner and drinks wherever he goes. He redecorates his hotel suite dozens of times. He throws away every last dime to get the larger prize of $300 million.

Like Brewster, the landowner in today’s parable is generous, wasteful even. Both the parable and Brewster’s Millions display a great truth of our faith: gratuitousness. Like Brewster and the landowner, God is wasteful and extravagant. God gives away God without charge and abundantly.  God throws God away because that’s who God is. Jesus reveals this aspect of God in today’s parable.

This is the divine gratuitousness, which calls forth a response from us. With today’s parable, Jesus tells his followers to get out of the worthiness game entirely and step into God’s free and unconditional love—a love that is often ignored or rejected. It’s hard for us to believe. We prefer merit, earning, and achievement. Hence, the first set of day laborers are angry with the landowner for getting the same pay as workers who did almost no work. We think we have to earn God but God is trying to give God away. We seem to prefer the worthiness system, where we earn what we get.  But that’s not God’s invitation; God sets a banquet for everyone. We have only to accept the invitation. The Mystery is unconditionally available, totally free, literally for the taking—anytime, anywhere, by anyone!  The Mystery is absolutely available right here, right now.  All we need to do is trust: stop thinking and let the Mystery in—open to the ever-present Mystery who is your own deepest self.  Let yourself go into the Mystery.  The Mystery is ours for nothing: God is throwing God away on us!

Our gratuitous response to God’s gratuity is to let ourselves, like Jesus, become God-consumed and God-possessed.  The mind of Jesus was strangely and unusually fixed on God.  Letting God so possess us that we become wildly, deliriously, uncontrollably fixed on God, like Jesus, lies at the heart of the message of Jacopone da Todi.

How do we practice gratuitousness?  Practicing gratuitousness may mean really listening to someone you cannot stand.  It may mean pouring yourself into a community service project.  It may even mean standing up for someone.  It will involve your imagination and spontaneity.  Therefore, we will need God to love as gratuitously as God.  Prayer is absolutely essential.  The point is to give oneself to God both in prayer and in service to our neighbor in the ecstatic state of God-drunkenness.

This gives a new spin to the Christian life.  Perhaps the question for us is not about resisting sin, but about the deeper problem of resisting the wild ecstasy of divine love?  Indeed the whole of Christian life becomes less about denial and more about self-gift. So, we must ask ourselves: How do we give ourselves to God? Where are we resisting this total giving of self? How are we holding back? How do we channel our energy into seeking to secure ourselves, to obtain control over our lives, or to grab affection over channeling our energy into gratuitous self-giving? We have to surrender and abandon ourselves to God through wild ecstasy, in order to die with Christ through the mad love of God.

Gratuitous surrender means a wild, fierce, unreserved gift of ourselves to God.  It is to let God consume us so we may be God-obsessed.  We gratuitously absorb God.  We become God-obsessed, God-intoxicated, and God-consumed simply by diving deep into prayer and remaining so focused on God in daily life that one could describe it as an obsession.  When we surrender ourselves gratuitously to the gratuitous God, we will become one with the Holy Mystery. God’s wild, unadulterated, and gratuitous love cannot be tamed only enjoyed.