Inmotion hosting, the company where this site is hosted, was hacked yesterday, September 25, and pages on many of the 700,000 sites hosted by this company were replaced with electronic graffiti boasting of the hacker's accomplishment. Here a series of announcements from the company on the matter. The hacker is apparently the hacker who through DNS hijacking intercepted the local domains for google, microsoft, yahoo, and others, instead sending a similar hacked page to internet users' browsers. (http://thehackernews.com/2011/09/inmotion-hosting-server-and-trinity-fm.html) The blog on this site was defaced for around 20 hours, as some readers noticed. The hacked page was not itself dangerous to computers or browsers viewing the site. The pages have been repaired, and the company says that it is acting to close the security vulnerability issues that allowed the attack in the first place.
The following puzzle compares the happiness of a man who thinks some of the goods he generally seeks in life are realized with the happiness of a man in the case where those goods are realized, but he thinks they are not. Besides being an interesting thought exercise, it might be helpful for shedding some light on what is involved in the notion of happiness. Warning! The scenario presented is not a pleasant one! A nicer scenario that would so starkly focus on the same issues did not, however, occur to me.
Twenty years from now, two twins, who are both happily married and love their families, have had a falling out with a extremely brilliant, wicked, and rich scientist, who determines to destroy their lives. He kidnaps them, locks them in separate rooms, and offers each of them the choice between the following two options:
(1) I will kidnap your wives and children, and torture them for the rest of your life in the most horrible ways thinkable, but by careful use of precise memory-altering drugs, planted evidence, false witnesses, etc., I will see to it that you are convinced without the slightest doubt that your wife and children died a a heroic or a peaceful death.
(2) I will kidnap your wives and children, and by the use of precise memory-altering drugs so that they no longer remember you at all, arrangement of circumstances, etc., I will do my best to see to it (there's a 95%-99% chance of success) that they are quite happy in their new life, but by use of similar drugs, falsified evidence, etc., I will ensure that you are convinced that they are being tortured and suffering horribly.
The first of the twins chooses the first option, while the second chooses the second. The wicked scientist keeps his threats and promises. Five years later, the first man is still convinced that his family died heroically, though they are in fact still suffering. The second man is still convinced, and reasonably on the basis of the evidence available to him, that his family is suffering, though they are not.
The questions for you, dear reader, are the following: on the basis only of the statements provided: (1) at this point in time, five years after the deed, which of the two men is happier? (2) Taken as a whole, whose life is happier?
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:9). As soon as anyone thinks he has God totally figured out, he is posed to discover that it isn't true. Granting that his insight into the ways of God is basically correct, God is still different, and even greater than he imagines. When God spoke through Isaiah, some persons seem to have thought: when someone abandons God, then God abandons him; his chance is over. To this God responds “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”(Isa 55:8). However long someone has been distant from God, let him return to the Lord, and he will find mercy with him.
In the Gospel (Mat 20:1-16a), too, we hear of he God who is very different from how we think. Jesus tells a parable about a household as a likeness for the Kingdom of the Heaven. At the beginning of the story nothing unusual occurs. At first sight we could even get the impression that the man wants to pay no more than necessary to get the job done. Only when he sees that he can't complete the day's work without more laborers, he goes out again to the market place to look for more workers. It was also not unusual to hire workers without previously agreeing upon a set wage. He would then have to pay the minimum wage customary in the region. But at the end of the day he surprises everyone by paying all the workers the same wage, one denarius, a usual wage for a full day's work. We heard how the man who worked the whole day were rather annoyed that they didn't get anything more than those who had only worked a single hour. The vinegrowers union might have also had a complaint against the owner: he disturbs the labor market, takes away motivation from the workers to work a full day, and thus makes it more difficult for the other winegrowers to get good work done. But God is no finance manager. He is a lover, and wants to give to everyone who comes to him. The last workers were as needy as the first. They needed just as much for their families as the first workers needed, and he gives them just as much.
This parable is given us as a complement to the promised reward for the following of Christ. Just before the parable we heard today, a young man came to Jesus and asked him what he had to do in order to gain eternal life. Jesus said, keep the commandments: you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, etc., and above all, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The man answered that he had done all these, and asked what he still lacked. Thereupon Jesus invited him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and to follow him. But he didn't want to do this, and went away sad. Peter, perhaps to be sure that, as Jesus promised the young man treasure in heaven, that the disciples also would receive a reward for following Jesus, and perhaps a bit proud that they had followed the call to discipleship, asked: “We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (Mat 19:27) Jesus answered: “You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mat 19:28-29). God does not let any love and service to his kingdom go unrewarded.
But immediately following this, Jesus warns against self-complacency with one's discipleship, and against the temptation to set limits to God, and on account of this promise to classify people into two sets: the people that are following Christ, and are going to receive this reward, and the people that have left him, and will not receive this reward. God does not so quickly give up. He does not act as a businessman who wants to get as much income with as little expenditure as possible. He wants to give, and he constantly invites all, so that he can give to all. The first places in heaven, if we can speak in this way, belong not to the bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral assistants, and those who put in the most hours for the kingdom, but to those who most of all recognize their own neediness and open themselves to God's love. Amen.