The Reader’s Digest Magazine once ran the story of a robber who went to a bank in the New York State city of Syracuse. He approached the teller and demanded the sum of $20,000. On reaching home, he realized much to his chagrin that the money was not complete. Fuming, he dashed back to the bank to complain about his being short-changed. And there and then he was arrested!
Complaining is as old as fallen humanity.When God asked Adam if he had eaten of the forbidden fruit his response was: “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Gen 3:12). Next, Cain was asked abouthis brother, Abel, and his response was: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).During the Exodus the people of Israel complained about the Egyptians pursuing to overtake them. Then they grumbled about food. Then they got sick of the food that God gave them andthey moaned loudly: “There is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Num. 11:4-5). Next, the people complained about water for drinking. They also complained that the inhabitants of Canaan would be too strong for them: “Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Num. 14:3).
Dear friends, we are like those people in some many different ways. Whenever we grumble against God, we want to leave his presence for a place of convenience, but which ends up leaving us worse off than before. We just love complain! We complain about the drought and we complain about the rains. The childless wish they had children while many of those who have complain that it is too hard raising them up. The unmarried wish they were married while many of the married think it is hell. When the value of the currency rises, the exporters complain; when it falls, the importers and those travelling overseas complain. In the dry season we complain that it is too hot, and in the wet season we complain about the rains not stopping. We need torealize that complaining shows a lack of trust in God’s providence. A complainer is never contented with his/her lot in life. Grumbling is harmful to the spiritual life!
In the First Reading the people complained aboutMoses taking too long to return from the mountain and so they made themselves the Golden Calf. They found an excuse to go astray. They made themselves a non-living god who, expectedly, was blind to all their evil ways. In the Gospel the Pharisees complain about Jesus associating with sinners. And in response, the Lord uses three parables to teach them about the merciful heart of the Father. God truly cares about each one of us and will not rest if only one sheep is missing, or one coin is lost. God rejoices when we return to him, as the shepherd rejoices upon rescuing his sheep, and as the woman rejoices upon recovering her coin – every sinner who returns to God brings joy to the halls of heaven and the heart of the Father.
In the Prodigal Son episode, the younger son complains to the father to give him his own share of the family estate. When he comes back home having realized his folly, the father forgives him but then someone else complains. The older son –the prodigal brother – complains about the father welcoming the lost son. He is so self-assured that, like the Pharisees, he criticizes his father for welcoming a sinner who happens to be his own brother. That is the hallmark of selfish, mean-spiritedness! Complaining all the time makes us more like the Pharisees, whose self-righteous and judgmental comments provided the occasion for today’s parables. If the Pharisees were God, then every sinner would have been destroyed. Conversely, our Lord Jesus uses his power and authority to bring sinners back into communion with God. The Pharisees’ idea of God is that of a harsh and judgmental Taskmaster, but in truth our God is a dedicated shepherd. He is the Father of mercies, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
The Pharisees painted an image of God in their own likeness. They deemed themselves superior to everyone else. We become like them whenever we assume a superiority complex and judge others harshly. When we try to dominate those around us, and are quick to point out other people’s faults; when we carry grudges for ages and complain about anything and everything – we become like the complaining older son, and like the Pharisees. We become unhappy wives and husbands, unhappy brothers and sisters, unhappy sons and daughters – unhappy people we become. Grumbling blocks the channel of grace flowing to us, and it also blocks the passage of grace from us to others.
But all this is what Christ came to fix! As St Paul explains in the Second Reading, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul knew this because he was a beneficiary of Christ’s saving grace. He had complained about the rise of Christianity and had set out to destroy it. He had been a Pharisee. But, having experienced divine grace and forgiveness, he became himself the Apostle of forgiveness. That’s what we are called to become, to have God the Father’s eyes of compassion. When we complain less we see more, we value more, we understand more, we tolerate more, we love more, and we thank more. That is the true character of authentic Christian discipleship!
Therefore, let us resolve today to complain less and to be more thankful for the gift of life and for the gift of each other. As St Paul challenges the Philippians: “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world” (Phil. 2:14-15). Let these words resonate in our hearts today…Amen!
Readings: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; First Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10