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 do! I can recall jealousy of Gordon, who effortlessly swam to victory,
Dana, whose Master thesis was brilliant,
and Eric, whose pastoral faithfulness seemed beyond reach to me.
Jealousy, as a result of which, I never got to know these people.
Jealousy is sadness at another person’s good:
looks, achievements, possessions, relationships, social position, upbringing…
Sadness at good? Terribly disordered.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello”, the general is wrongly convinced by Iago, junior officer at his command, that his wife is unfaithful.
We hear Iago 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 that 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’ entering Jerusalem with triumph, cleansing the Temple, “cursing” the fig tree and declaring such things as
“Whatever you ask in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
Saint John Chrysostom (+407), Church Father, says that
the Priests were tormented with jealousy, because they had seen Christ entering the Temple in great glory. And not being able to master the fire of jealousy, which burnt in their breasts, they break forth in speech.
Their question does not seek truth and encounter.
“By what authority…?”
Jesus’ response? Well, there is no inclination to cancel them.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question, but He’s not dismissive.
He gives them an opportunity to think, thinkers that they should be.
But, alas, they refuse… And, even then, “what do you think?”
In mercy, Jesus reveals their lack of faith.
Saint Jerome (+420) says “thus much prefaced,
the Lord brings forward a parable, to convict them of their irreligion.”
But, the parable is, as suggested, one of mercy,
designed to attract to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is seeking to reach them where they are fragile.
The doorway to the Kingdom is mercy,
the doorway to the heart of the King is gratuitous love that reaches us
in our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness.
Which son in the parable “did the will of his father”? The first.
The one whose immediate response was not exactly enthusiastic,
but who came around and did.
There may be times, in our relationship with God,
when we are not enthusiastic, are indifferent,
feel like we are going through the motions.
There may be times when we say “no”,
and pursue and get entangled in other stuff.
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.
Indeed, the most unlikely people are “going into the kingdom of God ahead” of the elders, i.e., ahead of the serious people in Church,
accessing the heart of the King: tax collectors and prostitutes!
In other words, those who work for the occupant system
and those, well, whose lives are rather complicated
and make use of their bodies in ways they may prefer not.
These are messy lives that, likewise, do not seem to be
an immediately enthusiastic response to God’s invitation.
What liberating revelation for us:
our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness
are not a hindrance to God’s attraction and embrace
The only hindrance is deliberate, pondered refusal,
for God respects our freedom to say “no”.
All that is necessary is a whisper of faith,
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,
but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.
The story is told of two fellows riding a tandem bicycle up a steep hill. After significant effort, they finally make it to the top. The front rider says, “That was a tough climb.” To which the second rider replies, “Sure was and, if I hadn’t kept the brake on, we might have slipped backwards!”
This is an odd parable that takes poor collaboration much, much further--
to say the least!
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 collect the produce, to which the landowner is entitled
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 prudentially send no one else.
The landowner, however, 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 significant.
This parable can refer to the prophets and to the Son (of Man/of God)
coming to the Chosen People, His people—to whose leaders He is speaking.
They have been entrusted, in a special way, God’s vineyard.
In a sense, they, with the people, are the vineyard.
In the first reading, Isaiah 5:7, we read,
“The vine of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel.”
Today’s psalm, 80, suggests the same.
Given God’s covenant with Israel, we might find this parable disturbing.
God seems vengeful and vindictive, like He is breaking the covenant.
Know that this is not Jesus looking into His crystal ball, declaring game over.
This is Jesus making a strong appeal to these leaders
who hearts are not open because of entitlement.
This is an invitation, not a verdict.
We must, of course, ask how this parable applies to us, today.
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 of them—per Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
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 reiterates 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
are 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, perhaps because God sees how we struggle to love one another.
We have been incorporated into Christ, His Body,
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 (the Rector)
who really pushes our buttons, such that we bark and maybe even bite,
or despairingly declare game over.
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—here or spiritually if watching, express your hope.
Acknowledge the struggles to love, and ask Him to transfigure your heart.
And so, we press on in Him, like St. Paul says in our second reading,
with a heavenly call, preceded and indwelt by divine love.
How blessed we are.