– Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications Macau
Jesus narrates the parable of the slave that leaves us a bit bitter and disillusioned. After a hard day’s work, the slave returns home very tired. The master, instead of complimenting him for the service done and inviting him to sit and eat a piece of bread, demands harshly: “First, serve me, after I am satisfied, you will eat supper.”
He makes use of the example to transmit his theological message. He wants to correct the Pharisaic spiritual guidance of that time (in our time too) that preached the religion of merits.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator” (no 2007). It adds further that “The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit” (no 2008).
Furthermore, the Catechism explains that “Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us ‘co-heirs’ with Christ and worthy of obtaining ‘the promised inheritance of eternal life.’ The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. ‘Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due. . . . Our merits are God’s gifts’” (no 2009).
Jesus does not intend to underestimate the good works. He, rather, tries to liberate us from a dangerous egoism. Jesus wants us to understand that the Pharisaic behavior of doing good works to merit a reward is foolish because all that is good is always a gratuitous gift of God and not a merit of the person. “What do you possess—says Paul—that you have not received? If you have received it, why are you proud of it as if you have not received it?” (1 Cor 4:7).