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home : our faith : the word October 17, 2017

Oct. 8 - Rebellion against the landowner never ends well

The Word
By Father Garry Koch

The parable of the vineyard that Jesus tells has intentional references to the parable that Isaiah uses in the First Reading. Jesus utilizes the knowledge of the Scriptures among his listeners to expand upon the fundamental lesson that Isaiah intended. As Jesus is present in the temple precincts for the festival of Passover, the reference he makes also to Psalm 118 – “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes,” – would have been fresh on their minds. This parable draws our attention to the theme of rejection, particularly rejection of the word of God, not by the people, but by the chief priests and the elders.

The parable isn’t about the vineyard, it isn’t even about the owner of the vineyard, it is essentially about the hired workers in the vineyard. They are poorly paid workers who care little for the farm itself. They do the work – not because they are committed to farming, but because it a job. They see in this farm an opportunity, not to own a nice vineyard and tend to the vines there, but to capitalize on it, take advantage of the owner, and perhaps even manage to abscond with the property for themselves.

While they managed to send that signal to the landowner by abusing and even killing those whom he sent to the vineyard to secure his rights and money, he seems to be unaware of their plots and fails to protect his son when he sends him to the vineyard to collect his due. It is only after his son is killed that he responds to them with full force. But by then it is too late for his son.

What are we to make of these wicked tenant farmers? There are always those among seek division instead of unity and peace. This has been true in the Church from the very beginning and it continues into our own times. 

To some extent, probably mirroring the general political world around us, it seems that the Church is falling into ideological factions. While this has been in evidence on Catholic university campuses for more than a generation now, those who have been educated in such institutions, some of whom are now themselves either in academia or ecclesiastical positions of authority, are growing ever more vigorous in their divisiveness. This is true on both sides of the ideological spectrum.

Jesus offers us many stern warnings against divisiveness within the community. There will always be those who prefer their own agenda to that of the Holy Spirit; those who prefer power and authority over service; those who seek to control the vineyard instead of recognizing that they are but the tenders to the vines, the vines which belong to Christ, the landowner.

It is hard for us not to get caught up into all of the mess of political divisiveness. It is ever present to us, especially to those who are highly connected to social media. The tendency toward believing that all opinions are equal in matters of faith, and that there is no absolute truth pervades not only the culture but is beginning to infect the Church as well.

These are not easy times to be a disciple of Jesus. We who are in the vineyard want to remain faithful to the landowner, but often find it difficult when those who tend to the vineyard are in open disagreement with one another, and even at times seem to be fighting the landowner.

Oct. 15 – Are you hungry enough for heaven?

If you want to get into an interesting conversation, ask a group of people whether or not everyone goes to heaven. Chances are, in an age when people believe that “all dogs go to heaven,” most people would simply say “yes.” Not many people pay much mind to life after death.

Part of the problem is that we have created such inane images of heaven, with angels flying while we sit on clouds kibitzing with our friends that we fail to take the promise with any gravity.

The ancient Israelites used the image of great banquets to depict the eternal kingdom and the promise of eternity. They were a sustenance people who rarely had food in abundance. We are regularly accustomed to having as much food as we desire, whenever we want it, from hundreds of different sources, and in a wide range of forms.

At the same time, of course, we know that hunger is rampant. Millions of children in the United States lack sufficient food on a daily basis. We have seen much hunger as natural disasters have devastated not only our country but others in our region as well.  As at the time of Jesus, food was a commodity in luxury for the rich and in dearth for the poor.

It is no wonder, then, that the consistent image of a magnificent banquet runs through both the writings of the prophets and the parables of Jesus to describe the kingdom of heaven where God will provide food that will be unimaginable in its quantity, variety and splendor. We can think of the many banquets  we have attended and still the bounty of the kingdom of heaven will stand beyond measure.

This week Isaiah presents a pastoral scene where God cares for his poor in abundance. Their concerns are wiped away; divisions between rich and poor, man and woman, slave and free, are gone while all share equally in God’s abundant generosity.

The parable that Jesus tells us this week, has a twist on the banquet theme that is most relevant. As the king called guests to his wedding banquet he found that many chose not to come. They had other things to do, and some even killed the messengers! After getting his vengeance on those who rejected his invitation, he invited to the banquet all those from countryside. These are the people who have never been invited to a festive banquet of any kind. They dress in their finest and graciously accept the king’s invitation.

Well, not all of them did. There is one man who comes, though not dressed in his best, rather just as he stepped out of his fields. He was immediately thrown out of the banquet.

The invited guests who refused to come had little concern for food as they had enough, and certainly no respect for the king or his son. The one person who chose to come inappropriately dressed attended the banquet for all of the wrong reasons. He was more interested in the food than he was in making the right appearance or showing his own worthiness in that esteemed company.

With food aplenty and banquets frequent, the image of the great banquet of the kingdom of heaven does not resonate with visceral appeal. For those who are in great need, even the promise of a little food is enough.

The Lord gives us a taste of this banquet every time we share in the Eucharist. By virtue of our Baptism each of us has the appropriate garment to wear to the banquet – the very seal of our Baptism. However, often we are too busy to accept the invitation to come. Many of us have already killed the messengers and have cut ourselves off from the banquet entirely.

We do not quite understand the kingdom of God, not because it is far and distant from us, but because we are not hungry enough to fully appreciate the great measure of the promise that God is laying out for us. This is why the poor and the hungry, the social outcasts and needy are entering the kingdom before us. They appreciate what it means to be in need of God’s love and care.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

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