|October 4-5, 2014, Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A|
"What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?" As I was preparing the readings for this weekend, I realized that I have always read this parable as if I were one of the tenants. In other words, it had echoes of that terrible threat we sometimes hear as a child: wait till your father gets home. I never really had that experience when I was young because at the time in my life, my father worked the night shift so he was already home if I did something bad. But this time as I read this over and over with the framework of the New Evangelization in mind, I began to see it much less as a threat for not doing my part in the building up of God's kingdom and more so as a message of God's faithfulness and trust in his disciples even when they do fall short.
The key for my change of view was to remember the context of Matthew's Gospel. Matthew wrote his Gospel to a community that had experienced the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, followed by being thrown out of the synagogues they had worshiped in their whole lives. The Jewish people were one of the few, if not the only, conquered people that the Romans allowed to continue to practice their own religion. After the rebellion in Israel that led to the Roman destruction of the Temple, the Jewish leaders were afraid that privilege would be revoked. So some of them tried to deflect the blame for the uprising to the early Christian community, who were primarily Jews. They inserted a prayer into their daily liturgy that basically said that the Nazarites (as the early Jewish Christians were called) were to be anathema, or cursed. Obviously the early Christians could not pray this prayer so they were effectively excluded from the synagogues. To get a sense of how this affected them, think of the strong reactions people have had in recent years to the closing of their parish church. This led many in Matthew's community to question how they fit into God's promise of salvation to his people Israel. One of the main purposes of Matthew's Gospel is to encourage his community by showing them that they are the new Israel. His portrayal of Jesus draws striking parallels between Moses and Jesus as the new Moses. So as Matthew's community heard this retelling of the ancient parable from Isaiah, they would see themselves as the " other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times."
The heart of all evangelization, including the New Evangelization, is a deep and awesome awareness of how much God loves us. Once we start to have glimpse of being loved that way, we cannot help but to share that love. Evangelization is not about preaching doctrine or scaring people with fire and brimstone, it is about sharing the joy that comes from being loved. Our culture is full of songs and stories of how the feeling of being love changes a person, softens them and enlarges them. Reading today's parable in the context of salvation history and the particular circumstance of Matthew's community reminds us again that God so loves the world that He sent His only Son into it, not to condemn it but to save it. God sent Jesus even though God knew that he was sending Jesus into a world that often deals with truth by killing it. Just as we are touched by stories of first responders rushing towards danger to save people, or a soldier sacrificing his own body to protect his or her comrades, or a mother sacrificing her own life to give life to her child, if we understand what Jesus is really about it would touch us to our deepest core.
The primary way we humans encounter God's love is in relationship with other humans. That is God's plan. The Church's mission, and therefore our mission as a parish is to be the enfleshment of God's love here in Stow in 2014 so that those who are looking for love can experience God's love in a humanly understandable way. I cannot begin to express how deeply I have felt this love from this community, and not just the recent outpouring after the fire, but over the years, in good times and in bad. But with such a great gift comes great responsibility. I am also deeply aware of how many people I come in contact with who do not experience that sense of being loved, and how that pains them. We have a lot of work to do. God has prepared our local vineyard; He has tilled the soil, cleared it of stones, planted choice wines and built a watchtower. Now we have to tend it so it produces its fruit.
I know that many people have expressed a fear that St. Isidore will be closed or just swallowed up by a larger St. Elizabeth parish. The good news/bad news is that this is entirely up to us. There is only one way to prevent St. Isidore from closing, and that is to be a flourishing, active parish that makes God's love vibrantly enfleshed here in Stow. That will take every one getting involved. It is pretty obvious that for this parish to function we need more servers, musicians, EMs, lectors, GoF core team members, ushers, gardeners, baptism team members, ... If you have misgivings about Church teachings that hold you back, come and talk to someone on staff here. If you have been treated poorly by someone in authority in the Church, don't let that keep you from the fullness of God's love. Pray more, read scripture more, come to know who Jesus is and how much you are loved. God so loves us he has given us his only son but he never imposes his love. We need to respond in order to experience that love to its fullest.
Hear this Gospel in your hearts. Let us make the scripture Jesus quotes our story: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?