How ‘bout Them Grapes?
Proper 22 Year A
This is a somewhat outrageous parable, for it describes a somewhat outrageous situation. A land-owner leases his vineyard; a lease implies an agreement.
It is harvest collection time, and the tenants to whom the vineyard has been leased, kill the servants who come to retrieve the fruit to which the landowner is entitled per ownership and per the agreement.
What is that all about?
Then what happens?
The landowner sends another round of servants, larger in number; and the tenants kill these servants. Now, at this point, one would normally conclude: “problem!”
and send no one else—save law enforcement—for fear of more killing.
Then what happens?
The landowner sends his son—alone. Naïve and imprudent, to say the least? When the tenants have killed several of your servants, you do not send your son into harm’s way.
The tenants are crazy.
Moreover, they actually think that, by killing the son, they will get his inheritance!
This is not how it works.
Remember that this is a parable, wherein illogicality can serve as a doorway to something deeper. The landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence are very significant.
This parable can refer to the prophets and to the Son (of Man/of God) coming to the Chosen People, the Jews—to whose leaders Jesus is speaking. They have been entrusted, in a special way, God’s vineyard. In a sense, they are the vineyard.
In Isaiah 5:7, we read, “The vine of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel.”
Given this covenant with Israel, we might find this parable disturbing. God seems tempestuous and vengeful, like He breaking the covenant. Know that Jesus never makes declarations of definitive denial. This is not Jesus looking into His crystal ball. This is Jesus making a strong appeal to an opening of the heart, to these leaders who hearts are not terribly open because of entitlement. This is an invitation, not a verdict.
We must, of course, ask how this parable applies to us, today. We must ask what is being revealed to us who are “tenants”, i.e. children of God, to whom the life of God is entrusted and in whom the life of God must bear fruit. God shares with us His life, not because He is lonely, but because goodness, by nature, radiates.
What is the fruit that must come forth in our lives, which the landowner would like to be able to “collect”? We can surely consider the fruit(s) of the Spirit,
i.e., what the life of God does in us. 9 or 12 of them—depending on your translation: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. These characterize relationships between Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
Which leads us to John, chapter 15, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine,
of us as branches on the vine which must bear fruit, and gives the new commandment to love one another.
The life of God, entrusted to us “tenants”, must produce the fruit of love for one another. Indeed, if our hearts have been lovingly seized by Jesus, we cannot but love our Sisters and Brothers.
Being loved by God transforms and expands the heart, enabling us to love divinely—even enemies.
This perhaps explains the persistence of the landowner. In actuality, the landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence is persistence in relationship and the bestowal of gifts. With each visit, the landowner gives more of himself,
until he gives everything in his son. Why does the divine landowner do this?
Because goodness, by nature, radiates. Also, because God sees how we struggle to love one another.
We have been drawn into the Body of Christ with people who are very different.
It is frankly a little much, a little intense for our sensibility. We also all have, of course, that one person who really pushes our buttons such that we bark and maybe even bite, or despairingly wave the white flag.
God, however, never grows weary. He persists. So much does God persist that “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!”
Normally, a rejected stone is, well, rejected. God always triumphs. Divine love will triumph in our lives. All we must do is dare to hope. All we need to do is cling to Jesus. When you receive Him in the Eucharist, express your hope.
Acknowledge the struggles to love, and ask Him to transfigure your heart.
In a few moments, we have the privilege of witnessing the Baptism of Carter and Daniel. Daniel and Carter become fully members of Christ and His Body, the Church—and secret partners, co-sojourners, in faith. The Baptism of children is a particular testimony to the “landowner’s naiveté and imprudence”: the gift of grace, the kingdom of God, gratuitously bestowed upon them, who have no idea what is happening (!). Oh, the haste of divine love: no time to waste.
Christ Jesus makes us all His own. And so, we press on in Him, like St. Paul says in our second reading, with a heavenly call, preceded by divine love.
How blessed we are.
How can they be passing through the Pearly Gates?
How many of you have ever struggled with jealousy?
Oh, jealousy, that ugly response that can lead to ugly things!
We all fall prey, do we not?
I can recall Gordon Appleton, athletic, blond high school swim team star,
who effortlessly swam to victory.
I was not happy with second place.
I was uglily jealous. And, as a result, I never got to know him.
Jealousy is sadness at another person’s good: looks, achievements, possessions, position, relationships, whatever.
Sadness at good? Terribly disordered.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello”, the general is wrongly convinced by Lago, junior officer at his command, that his wife is unfaithful.
We hear Lago say,
O beware, O lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meet on which it feeds.
Jealousy plays tricks on the mind. And, heart.
St. Augustine (+430) says, “He that is jealous is not in love.”
As it intensifies, jealousy becomes envy—deadly sin.
The sadness at another person’s good becomes anger and contempt, with a desire to destroy the good.
Terribly, terribly disordered.
Hence, the words of Proverbs 14:30,
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot”.
The book of Wisdom (2:24) reminds us,
“By the envy of the Devil death entered the world”.
The chief priests and elders are jealous, becoming envious, of Jesus, and are unable to hear and welcome him.
Just before this passage, in the first half of Matthew 21, we have Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus cleansing the Temple, and Jesus “cursing” the fig tree—all displays of authority, which these leaders either witnessed or learned.
Their response? A question, but not a question seeking truth and encounter: By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?
Jesus refuses to engage. Jesus never wastes His time. He is not dismissive, and, in fact, mercifully gives them an opportunity to think, thinkers that they should be. He meets them somewhat on their turf, but, quickly moves on.
Matthew 7:6 comes to mind: Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz in Germany, in the early part of the 9th century, comments on this passage, saying, There are two reasons why the knowledge of truth should be kept back from those who ask; either when he who asks is unfit to receive, or from his hatred or contempt of the truth is unworthy to have that which he asks opened to him.
Jesus is not going to share what is in His heart. And, yet He does! He “moves on”
to revealing things of the will of God and the Kingdom of God. Revelation is Jesus sharing what is in His heart…
The will of God is not, as we sometimes think, specific courses of action, the game-plan of God, but relationship with God. Our relationship with God begins and ends with the attraction of God. We respond to Him who first loves us. (cf. I John 4:19) Our response must be real and concrete.
“Let us love in truth and action” St. John tells us (I John 3:18).
“The proof is in the pudding” (a wonderful 14th century expression).
There is a liberating truth revealed in this parable. Which son “did the will of his father”? The first. The one whose response was not immediately enthusiastic, but who came around and acted.
There may be times, in our relationship to God, when we are not enthusiastic, when we are indifferent and feel like we are going through the motions. There may be times when our response to God’s invitation is negative, and we get entangled in other stuff.
Worry not! It is never too late to come around —like the workers of the 11th-hour in last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16). The wasted time is not held against us.
The kingdom of God is not, as we sometimes think, a place or a set of ideals or a way of life. The kingdom of God is also, in the end, relationship with God, the King.
And, the most unlikely people are entering into this relationship. Tax collectors and prostitutes! In other words, those whose lives are very messy,
whose lives do not seem to be an immediately enthusiastic response to God’s invitation, those who got entangled in other stuff.
There is a liberating truth revealed in this. Our brokenness is not a hindrance to God’s attraction, to God at work in us, inviting us into relationship. All we must do is, in the midst of the brokenness, aware of our unworthiness, is cry out in faith.
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,
but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.
Treasure in my Chest
Proper 12 Year A
We continue our reading of these parables of Jesus,
of these imaginative metaphors meant to give us glimpses of the Kingdom.
Now, as we articulated last week, the Kingdom is nothing less than the King, and all those of whom He has taken hold and who share in His life,
a life fully and perfectly lived “in” what we call heaven;
hence, the expression, “the kingdom of heaven”.
We have the privilege of sharing in God’s life.
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed”
This is Peter’s way, in his epistle, chapter 1 (v. 23), of speaking of grace,
whereby we share in God’s life.
John tells us: “He gave power (grace!) to become children of God.” (1:12)
We have the privilege of sharing in God’s life.
We, of course, live our human life.
We eat and drink and try to be merry.
We makes decisions and vacation and shop and sleep
and engage one another in affection.
But, deep inside, something else is happening.
We have the privilege of sharing in God’s life.
God’s life is our truest life, for God is our purpose, God is our home.
Our human life—our decision-making and vacationing and shopping
and sleeping and engaging one another in affection--
is to be taken hold of and transformed from within,
such that the God’s life—a life of pure light and pure love—radiate in us.
And, as suggested, to the extent that we share in God’s life,
heaven begins now—deep inside.
I deliberately say, “to the extent”, for
We are, therefore, speaking of an invitation to ever-lasting happiness
extended to us at every moment of every day.
In the second reading Paul (Romans 8:29-30) says this
in what seems to be a complex way:
called, foreknown, predestined, justified and glorified.
God is quite ambitious with us, and goes the whole nine yards!
What does Jesus reveal in this unusual string of very short parables
about the “kingdom of heaven”, parables to be placed in parallel,
thus shedding light on one another?
The parables reveal different aspects of God, the King, and the life of the God and our sharing in His life.
They can be interpreted in different ways and infinitely more can be said.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed and yeast and a hidden treasure and a merchant and a fishing net.
Let us take a very brief look at these parables.
The mustard seed.
St. Gregory the Great—sixth-century Doctor of the Church,
to whom Gregorian chant is attributed,
who, as Pope, sent St. Augustine as first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597,
Christ Himself is the grain of mustard seed, who, planted in the garden of the sepulchre, grew up a great tree; He was a grain of seed when He died, and a tree when He rose again; a grain of seed in the humbleness of the flesh, a tree in the power of His majesty.
The kingdom of heaven:
Christ, our Tree, in Whose branches each of us find a place, a home.
The kingdom of heaven: the Trinitarian life, “three measures”, in us,
until, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:28, “God is all in all”.
The kingdom of heaven: worth more than anything else,
to be safeguarded at all costs.
St. Agnes understood this, when at the age of 14,
she refused to violate her commitment to God and instead accepted to die.
The kingdom of heaven: Christ who searches for us, His pearl of great price, gives all that He has, His very life, until He finds us.
The fishing net.
The kingdom of heaven: pure light and pure love,
with no room for anything but these.
There are important questions that these parables invite us to ask:
To some of us, this degree of intimacy with God
may sound too good to be true, or a little too far-fetched (too far to fetch)
or even too much to handle (!).
I mean, really: intimacy with the Almighty?
Jesus makes it possible. It is not our doing, but our receiving.
God who is full of might is even more full of love.
Intimacy with the Almighty is possible,
and our issues—pain or hesitation or indifference or…need not be obstacles.
Paul says this in the second reading (Romans 8:28):
“We know that all things work together for the good
for those who love God.”
In the heart of each of us, there is a desire to love God.
The desire is a gift and is already love for God.
And this desire is sufficient for God to
“make all things work together for the good”.
He will take our bruised and/or tired hearts and set them aflame.
If we so desire, heaven begins now—deep inside.
Proper 11 Year A
We continue this week reading further into chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel.
Lakeside, with no sound amplification system (!),
Jesus is teaching parables to an enormous crowd.
A parable is a figure of speech, a metaphorical story (placed in parallel),
meant to highlight one or two points, which serve to reveal.
Always and ultimately the One who is beyond normal human experience
and thus needs to reveal Himself: God
Such revelation is always Jesus’ purpose:
to open and share the mystery of God with us.
Thus, everything that Jesus says and does is revelation.
That this parable be revelation of God
is fundamental and paramount to bear in mind.
The kingdom of God is not
a particular political system or a behavioral code.
The kingdom of God is nothing less than God, the King.
Jesus says as much in this parable!
“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.”
[That the kingdom of God is God cannot be underscored enough.]
The kingdom of God is also God taking hold of us and of the Cosmos.
We are the kingdom of God insofar as we participate in the life of God.
Thus, when we pray “Thy Kingdom come”, we are not asking
that the downtrodden emerge victorious or that there be peace on earth.
We are first asking that the King come and take hold of us
and flood us with love and light.
The rest—in which we do have a role to play—will follow.
Recall what Matthew says back in chapter 6 (verse 33):
“Strive first for the kingdom of God (i.e., for the King!)
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
When we pray “Thy Kingdom come”,
we are asking to be granted a greater share in the very life of God.
And so, we are asking to be more Christian.
To be a Christian is to share in the very life of God thanks to Christ,
with the same intimacy that exists
between the Son and the Father (and the Holy Spirit).
Now, Jesus interestingly, uncommonly, explains the parable.
(although Jesus’ “explanations” always leave one hungry for more!)
Well, Jesus’ explanations are designed to arouse hunger.
Jesus’ explanation is simple.
Jesus is about making children of God
who find themselves amongst persons who refuse the Good News
—in this, somehow moved by evil,
and, at the end of time,
the latter will suffer payback and the former will be rewarded.
Simple—or so it seems…
Upon closer reading, there is perhaps more/something else.
What is certainly revealed is that, when it comes to the divine life,
Jesus takes the initiative.
He sows the good seed.
We are Christian because God become human, Christ,
has reached into us and deposited the gift of grace that transforms us
—beyond anything that we can do:
“born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man,
but of God.” (John 1:13)
We are, of course, to cooperate with grace—bearing in mind that it is pure gift.
How do we cooperate?
We cooperate by feeding our faith, hope and love, the beautiful wheat.
Actually, we allow Jesus to feed us—in a particular way
when we encounter Him through the Scriptures and in the Eucharist.
Let us go further.
That Jesus tell us not to uproot the weeds, not to separate good from bad,
is perplexing and significant, and perhaps obliges us to discover the more.
Perhaps Jesus does not want us to uproot the weeds
because the weeds are in us.
Grace—and faith, hope and love, grow in us
alongside not-so-wonderful things, weeds.
If we are honest, we all know and experience this,
and we all know and experience the resulting inner conflict
so plainly and poignantly described by St. Paul,
“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:14)
Jesus makes it clear that only He, God, can carefully separate.
It is His to do, and we are to surrender the weeds
and let Him take care of them, let the angels of God take care of them.
We are to focus on the child of God in us and to trust for the rest.
We trust believing what is revealed in Malachi, chapter 3 (v. 19),
“They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts,
my special possession on the day when I act,
and I will spare them as parents spare their children.”
Our trust is founded on the incredible trust expressed by the sower of seed:
“Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”
Apparently, the darkness in us will not extinguish the light,
the weeds in us will not overtake the wheat.
There will be a purification at the end—“burned up with fire”--
so that there be only wheat, only light, only love.
In the meantime, however, we are to focus on the child of God in us
and to trust.
We trust believing that, as the prophet Malachi says (4:2),
in speaking of the great day of the Lord,
“the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings”.
I Got You Babe
Proper 9 Year A
Matthew 11: 25-30
Chapter 11 of Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus’ ministry is in full swing: mountaintop sermons, multiple healings, commissioning of Twelve Apostles, wrestling matches with unwilling towns, i.e. connection after connection.
If Jesus had a Facebook page, it would be bursting at its edges!
[Aaaah, a good question: if the Incarnation had occurred in our time,
would Jesus have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account? Hmmmm.]
And here, in the midst of everything
—in particular, contrasted with the inhospitality of his own people— a surprising, surprisingly intimate moment, a conversation with the Father —and we get to eavesdrop!
Jesus thanks the Father for sharing His secrets with those whom one might not expect:
not the leaders of his people, but with the child-like.
In so doing, Jesus reveals the key to receiving the secrets of God:
Is that it?
You mean: no ascetic practices, no social justice fight, no theology degree,
no moral perfection, no yogic stillness, no perfect church attendance?
No: these are all secondary—important, perhaps even intrinsic, but secondary.
Children are not ascetic or engaged in justice campaigns, have no degrees, are not morally perfect nor can sit still, and, on their own, would probably not attend church because too boring J.
The child-like: those who trust, who judge not, who welcome.
Now, what is beautiful, and so hope-filled,
is that God actually wants to share his secrets.
It is His wish. He does not need to.
God, however, is love, and love, by nature, radiates.
God simply wants to share His secrets, and His true(est) secret is Himself: God opens His mystery to each of us.
And thus the great(est) secret in our lives is God, is Christ.
Thus, from this intimate conversation with the Father,
Jesus extends the unconditional invitation that we read in verse 28.
“Come to me.”
You will notice, as suggested, that there are no contractual terms: “Come to me all you who can pay dues, or all you who understand the divine mysteries, or all you whose track record is impeccable and have your act together.”
Au contraire, we are invited to “come” as we are,
indebted, misunderstanding, hobbling, incomplete.
“all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens”
What an invitation!
There is one unusual condition in the un-conditional invitation, however. If we are to experience the rest of which Jesus speaks, rest that comes directly from His heart.
we must take upon ourselves His yoke and His burden.
And this is where Jesus loses me.
Another yoke does not equal rest!
And, so, I respond, “Jesus, if you give me your yoke and your burden, I’ll be pressed to the ground, and will never find rest.”
Well, if ever there were a man of his word, it is Jesus.
And, Jesus promises rest—somehow, in taking His yoke upon us.
This, of course, can only make sense if the yoke,
is, in fact, a source of liberation and strength.
What liberates and strengthens?
Now, which act of Jesus—although burdensome at one level for a time,
in fact, supremely communicates divine love?
The Cross. The mystery of the Cross.
And so, I think Jesus says, “Meet me at the Cross.”
Which does not translate:
“Meet me, in your imagination, in Jerusalem.” or
“Meet me in your ascetic attempts at imitating the Cross”.
Instead, “Meet me in my pouring forth of divine love —which can even occur in your suffering.”
The love that Jesus poured forth at the Cross is eternal.
The horrific pain that he endured at the Cross was momentary.
The love liberates and strengthens, and attracts us to Jesus, who says—unconditionally—“Come to me”.
He is gentle and humble in heart. We need not fear.
He invites us to be yoked to Him, to be bound to Him like Rebekah to Isaac.
He invites us to clothe ourselves with Him—as St. Paul says (I Corinthians 15:53),
“the perishable with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality”.
If we accept the invitation, we are set free from all that keeps us from loving, i.e. burdens of the heart,
and we find rest for our souls.
Our souls can only find rest in our Source, in God, our home.
“Come to me.” “Come home.”
We have only to let ourselves be drawn, to accept the invitation.
Jesus will take care of the rest.
Jesus deposits His Spirit within us Who, within us, “takes care of the rest”.
Let us then rejoice greatly.
Let us shout aloud!
Our King comes to us, and His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
Triumphant and victorious, gracious and merciful, a humble savior is He.
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