The Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt. 21:33-43]
To be gainfully employed, to have a good steady job capable of supporting a spouse and family, to have what really looks like job security until you are able to retire, such is the prospect one might desire or even envy if it is possible. A certain amount of contentment and self-assurance that this is the way it should be if one is to grapple with the uncertainty of life and of the future. How could the level of satisfaction possibly be realised in the natural order?
In the Gospel today, it seems that this was not enough for the tenants of a vineyard. They wanted more than that. They wanted ownership and complete control of the whole business enterprise. Not only that. They took action against anyone who would thwart them in their plans. Threats, physical harm and even someone’s destruction would fail to impede them. Ownership of a business was far too appealing than any course of questionable behavior. Perhaps this was only a small segment of the owner’s business and he would not bother to offer much resistance to retain it.
“Finally he sent his son.” By eliminating him the owner eventually just might lose any legal right for his family to retain the business. Did they really think they could pull off a stunt like this and not pay for it? To them it was worth a try. Distance and absentee landlord worked its magic on their imagination.
According to commentators the shabby behavior of Israel and the refusal of the Kingdom results in the loss of privilege as God’s chosen people. The new and true Israel is the Church. Each member is expected in different stations of life and in degrees to work for the welfare of the Kingdom. Surrounded with the assistance of the Sacramental system, the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the communion of saints, and common and private life of prayer are only the beginning of the help that God gives his faithful workers.
The gate is open. An attitude of apathy, lassitude or carelessness just does not match the profile of a generous worker. One can stay or leave if one chooses. It offers a choice to show sheer gratitude that God’s only Son did all that he did and the way he did it.
“What return shall I make to the Lord for all he has given me? I shall take the chalice of salvation and call upon the Lord and I shall be saved from my enemies.” To be gainfully employed is serious business.
The Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Hab 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-14; Lk 17:5-10]
Perhaps if Alan Greenspan were here this morning, he could give a detailed explanation of how our economy works. But I can give you some basic principles of the market economy: “You don’t get something for nothing,” and its corollary: “You don’t give something for nothing.” We expect to be compensated for our efforts. We expect our wages, or at least recognition and gratitude. We measure the value of someone’s life in terms of how much they can do or have done. Erik Erickson speaks of our having to move through a stage of “industriousness” in developing our identity. The problem is that most men (and not a few women) focus their self-understanding and identity around issues to technology and occupational skill. It is the beginning and limit of their identity formation. How many men will say, “Of course I love you. Look at all I have done for you.” Their work and paycheck can become a substitute for any other level of relationship.
It is not surprising that this attitude infiltrates our religious awareness. We expect to be compensated for our efforts. We use the same categories of payment, measurement , comparison and size that dominate our everyday life. The disciples request “Increase our faith” seems commendable to us. But our Lord’s answer seems uncomprehending, even rude. He undercuts their premise that they have faith. In fact, he deflects their focus from what is visible, measurable or impressive. Faith is not something we have and can augment. It is a relationship, a receptivity, a listening and an obedience. It de-centers us and removes those ego-barriers we use to filter our experience. The usual screens no longer apply: what am I getting out of this? what’s in it for me? how do I feel about this? how will I look to others? what about my fears and anxieties? If not removed, these barriers are at least diminished and our boundaries become more permeable. The just person lives by faith. Faith underlies and transforms our perception of reality and the way we cope with it. The rash person has no integrity. The rash person can’t suffer much delay in seeing plans and expectations met. The rash person needs fulfillment and satisfaction now. He needs to be informed of what is going on. We transfer the sense of rashness to skin disorders which are extremely irritable. The rash person is irritable. The just person live by faith, by integrity. Erikson again describes integrity as an “accrued assurance of a proclivity for order and meaning.” In a Christian sense, it is a matured confidence growing within oneself that the world is meaningful and being guided in its order by the providence of God.
St. Thomas Aquinas defines faith as the communication of an inner spiritual light whereby human cognition is able to observe something that otherwise would remain in darkness. Increasing our faith means broadening and deepening this inner vision, this relatedness. It means to expand the boundaries of our belonging. Our seeing and acting springs from a fundamental trust in God and in life. The clarity, cognition, and action that we have manifest this trust in God. They are not substitutes for this relationship.
The center in which we experience this faith is our own heart and soul. It is in our heart that we sift through the experiences of our life, that we know the darkness and hesitancy and strengthening and inner light. It is in our heart that we are drawn and moved and touched, that we are possessed and are known. It is in our heart that we develop this “accrued proclivity” for the presence of movement of the One in whom we put our trust. Tolkein writes: “His grief he would not forget, but it will not darken his heart. It will teach him wisdom.” It is the heart that remembers and can admit the griefs and tragedies of living. Faith is the inner light that keeps the heart from darkness and transforms experiences of suffering and struggle into wisdom.
“The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come.” We are encouraged to step into this “delay” and make our home in it. The rash one is impatient and must see the fulfillment in his day and his time. But the vision has its own time. It is far broader and more inclusive than our minds can comprehend. There is a disproportion between our own actions and what it being accomplished. We are called to serve God’s purposes and time in our lives. This is a source of deep contentment and fulfillment. We have done no more than we were obliged to do. But we have done what we were commanded. The movements of our life have been filled with the deep power of God’s spirit, not the trackless wanderings of our own ego. The tasks of the laborers described in the Gospel are deeply human: cultivating the earth, caring for the living creatures, cooperating in the deep relationships of nurturance. They are sacraments of the deep obedience to the rhythms of the heart and of the earth in which we continue to serve the living God . God’s fullness becomes our fullness. God gives us the spirit of power and love and self-control.