Oh those wicked tenants: seizing and beating and killing the servants of the vineyard owner – all so they can reap the rewards of the vineyard – rather than owner who planted the vines and then provided everything for the tenants. . .
But before we get up on our mighty horse of judgement – let’s consider a couple of things. . .
FIRST: Do you think the world is the way God wants it to be??
Take a moment to think about that. Do you think the world is the way God wants it to be?
My guess is that probably every one of us came up with the exact same response: NO – of course not.
After all, we can look in many places to see evidence supporting our answer – we see struggles and discord and pain in our own families, neighborhoods, and Church. God could not possibly want that.
We turn on our computers every day only to find fraudulent e-mails sent from people trying to steal our identities, and receive phone calls from people trying to scam us in one way or another. God could not possibly want that.
We see factories belching junk into the air and animal species rapidly disappearing before our eyes. Is this what God wants for creation?
And of course we see the really big stuff: war, poverty, famine, oppression, murder – God certainly doesn’t want all of these things. Certainly not. NO – it seems pretty obvious that the world we are living in -- can’t possibly be the world God envisioned when he created all of this from nothing.
So how about a different question. Is the world the way WE would like it to be? Maybe we quickly came up with the same answer as before – of course not!
But if both of these things are true, if all of us think the world ISN’T the way God wants it to be or we want it to be – then why doesn’t the world look different than it does????
Why doesn’t the world look more like the world we want, the world we hope for, the world we dream about?
Now some hard reality. If there is something wrong with the world, it is NOT because God isn’t doing his part – but because we are not doing our part!
It’s not that God has failed in some way – but because we have.
And therein lies the problem – because I think I’m willing to argue that even though we may say we want the world to look the same way God wants it to – I’m not sure that really is the case.
Oh—we SAY we do. We’re good at that – saying things that sound good, saying things that try to convince ourselves and others that our motives are pure – that YES, we do want a world filled with love and kindness, and generosity and forgiveness – just as God does. . .
But we sure don’t seem to live that way. At least NOT in the ways that will bring about the world God wants.
And much of our behavior points to actually wanting very different things for the world than God wants …. And in that sense, our choices our decisions, and our sins – get us exactly what we do want. A world in which--
We get what we want, when we want, how we want it.
We get to hold on to our grudges, refusing to forgive nowhere near 70 times 7 times.
We get to buy things and acquire things, and use things without considering what harm they may bring to us or others.
We get to dislike and distrust people who are different than us.
We get to compete for virtually everything without having to worry about those who are on the “losing” end of our efforts.
Yes, we may SAY that we want the world God wants, but our actions seem to indicate that we actually want a much different world – one in which we are entitled to whatever we want – one not too different than the tenants in the parable wanted – where they were in charge and thought they did not owe anything to anyone – and could take whatever they wanted. . .
Both Isaiah in the 1st reading and Jesus in the Gospel use the image of a vineyard to drive home some very sobering thoughts.
And while the two readings don’t use the image in exactly the same way – two things come out loud and clear in both of them.
FIRST: that God provides everything that is needed for a good and efficient vineyard (hedges, wine press, tower) and SECOND: God is the landowner, the one in charge, the one to whom the yield of the vineyard is due.
And therein lies the challenge for us: for we sometimes struggle in accepting these truths. Sometimes we live as if God really DOESN’T get a say in the choices we make. We live as if the world and our little part of it – is NOT God’s – but is actually ours. Ours to do with what we please. And so, producing the “good fruit” God wants us to --- takes a back seat to the fruit that we should be growing – takes a back seat to whatever it is we want to do. >
And so, we sometimes act selfishly, acting purely in our own self-interest – and bear the kind of fruit that actually harms us and the world – making them far less than what we, and the world, were created to be.
And sometimes we live as if God really isn’t doing his part – as if God isn’t providing us with everything we need. We tend to blame God for our lives NOT turning out as we had hoped. We blame God for every bad thing we see in our lives and in the world around us.
When we hold this sort of view, it’s as if we think that GOD has to change for the world to be better –
rather than think that each of us needs to change to help bring about a better world, a kinder world, a more just world, a more perfect world.
Put simply --- it’s easy to do nothing when we think everything is God’s problem or God’s fault – and not ours. . .
But at the heart of Christianity – is the profound truth of the utter generosity of God – that our incredible God gives us everything we need – pouring out his grace and blessings – not because we deserve it or have earned it – but because he simply LOVES US!
And God did not do this just at the time of creation – but continues to do it every day – most perfectly shown in the sending of his son to save us and to heal a broken world.
And when we take everything God provides, when we take seriously our responsibility to tend God’s vineyard faithfully – great things will happen, good fruit will be borne, the kingdom of God will become a more visible reality – little by little through our every act of love – however great or small.
Does God want a better world? You bet. Do we want a better world? Certainly we do.
So let’s stop looking to God to make it happen f – but rather allow God to make it happen through every human heart open to his grace. Making the world a better place isn’t God’s job --- it’s our job. And so let’s be faithfully on the job today – and every day God blesses us with.
My name is Caleb. I come from a small town about 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It’s just a bump in the road known as Emmaus – I doubt if you’ve ever heard of the place. . .
Emmaus is in a region of my country called Judea – which is known for its hills. Some of them can be pretty barren – hence the Judean wilderness found stretching just south of the big city of Jerusalem all the way to Jericho. BUT on the hills to the west of Jerusalem, in the Jordan river valley – are found some of the best farmers in all of Israel – including several choice vineyards: it was the Napa Valley of Israel!
As you probably know, the one you call Jesus, who even in my day some were saying was the Messiah, loved to tell stories as he taught people about the kingdom of God and the qualities that God has and showers upon his people.
So, as Jesus passed through this fertile part of Judea on his way to Jerusalem – he quite naturally told stories about vineyards – something the people he was talking to could relate with. Now get ready – because for the next two Sunday’s you are going to hear stories about VINEYARDS!
Now I am what you would call a day-laborer – I think you still have such people in your time.
It means I did not have a regular job I went to everyday – like most of you have. But I was hired to do particular jobs – often times working the land, or harvesting crops, or building a barn. And once that particular job was finished – I moved on down the road, looking for the next job.
It may sound like an unsteady way to make a living – but it was quite popular in my day. Many of us did it. Because if you weren’t lucky enough to have land of your own, or weren’t trained in any particular skill, or owned your own shop or store – then chances were – you were a day-laborer.
One day the strangest thing happened to me. I was lucky enough to be hired at dawn to go work in a vineyard, agreeing to work for the usual daily wage, which by the way – was a denarius – which some would figure to be about $1.80 in your day – NOT MUCH -- but it was enough for me and people like me to live on.
Just to help with the perspective, I should point out that at least 1.4 billion people [I guess that is a pretty big number as I have never heard it before] but that many people in the world live on less than $1.43 a day in 2020!
So I was hired to work in a vineyard – and this was big vineyard, and there were lots of grapes to pick that day – so the landowner went out again at nine, again at noon, again at three --- and even again at five o’clock – practically at the end of the day – to hire workers, more workers, and even more workers.
Throughout the day he must have seen the clouds moving in and could tell a big storm was coming that night, and he did not want his grapes to get damaged. . . which would have cut into his profits.
Well, when it was finally time to quit – we all lined up for our pay – and this is where things got a bit strange. . . Because the foreman started paying those who were hired last –
and, none of us could believe this as it was happening – but those who came last, those who worked the least, those who barely worked up a sweat --- were paid what we who were hired at the beginning of the day agreed to work for: the usual daily wage: one denarius.
Well at first we were all excited – thinking if those who only worked for a couple of hours got paid as if they worked the whole day – that would certainly mean we would make out like bandits – at least four or five denari for each of us!!
But group by group, beginning with the last and ending with those of us who worked through the heat of the day – everyone got paid the same! Well that certainly wasn’t fair!!
Many of us worked hard, and we worked long hours, and we sweated a whole lot more than those hired later in the day! We were not happy to say the least – I mean we were down right peeved! And weren’t afraid to voice our disappointment.
Well it did not take too long for the land owner to put us in our place. Who were we to question his generosity?? Wasn’t he free to do as he wished with HIS money? Had he cheated any one of us – after all, he gave us what we agreed to work for –
and he was right on all accounts. So I just took my money and hit the road. While others wanted to organize a protest.
But all the way home, the landowner’s actions were churning around inside me – in my mind and most especially in my heart – as I was pondering what lesson I should learn from this.
Is it that when you are grateful – as the landowner was to get all his grapes harvested – that it leads you to be generous?? Maybe.
Is the lesson that even when someone doesn’t have the opportunity to work long and hard as I did that day – they still deserve a living wage. Could be.
Was the landowner trying to teach us that no matter how hard we try – we never outgrow the lessons of the playgrounds of our youth –
where the fastest or the biggest or the most talented are chosen first – while everyone else anxiously stands along the sidelines hoping to be invited to play?? Maybe that’s what all this first will be last and the last will be first stuff is all about. . .
Speaking of that – maybe the lesson is that it is easy to be last – that is, fall behind everyone else – when you shift your focus from just trying to do a good job to GRUMBLING about what everyone else may or may not be doing.
Or is the lesson it’s easy to get ahead, to be first, when you don’t worry so much about what you’re getting paid, but simply enjoy what you’re doing.
Who knows, maybe Jesus was just interested in teaching us about the nature of God, Yahweh, they call him --- who has such a wideness to his mercy, forgiveness, and love – who is SO generous that no one could ever be deserving of all these things – but can only accept them as pure gift. . . and then be a good steward of those gifts.
Or maybe in experiencing the generosity of the landowner – Jesus simply wanted us to become a bit more generous in sharing what little we have with those who are less fortunate. . .
Maybe we can all appreciate a bit more what we do have instead of grumbling about what we don’t have. . .
Perhaps I was supposed to learn all of these things or maybe only one of these things – it just makes you stop and wonder – at least it did for me: and maybe it will for you, too.
Well, it’s time to head off down the road to look for that next job. Thanks for letting me talk a little bit. And never let anyone be critical of YOUR generosity. . .
A son and his father were hiking in the mountains. Suddenly, the boy falls, twists his ankle and cries out a few others words that should not be repeated in front of women and children.
To the boy’s surprise, he hears that string of words repeating somewhere in the mountains.
Curious he yells: “Who are you?” He receives the answer back: “Who are you?”
Angered at the response, he screams, “Coward!” And receives back the response, “Coward!”
Now we know what’s going on, right? It is the echo of the boy’s voice. But he has never experienced this so he looks at his father and asks, “What’s going on?”
The father smiles and says: “why don’t you try saying something nice.”
And so the boy shouts: “I like you.” And of course the voice answers back: “I like you.”
Again, the boy shouts: “You are strong.” And the echoed response: “You are strong.”
The boy, still not quite understanding what’s going on, looks to his father again, who says--
“People call it an echo --- but it’s also how LIFE works.”
Really confused now, his father says: “life gives back to you everything you say or do. Our lives are simply an echo of our words and actions.
“If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart. If you want more confidence for your team – improve your own confidence.
“When your words are kind – the people you speak to will also be kind.
“The echo principle applies to everything, in all aspects of life. Life gives you back everything you have given it.”
God certainly understands the echo principle. That’s why throughout this year as we’ve read from St. Matthew’s Gospel on the Sundays of Ordinary Time we have heard such things as:
“Your light must shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” [5th Ord.]. If we radiate the light of Christ to others – that light will come back to us in the words and deeds of others.
“Unless you righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  If we act with righteousness, that is if our conduct is morally right and just, it affects others – and will come back as an echo to us.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”  Love is the only way to break the cycle of violence in our families, our neighborhoods, and our country.
“Whoever loses their life for my sake, will find it.”  We must expend our time, talent, and treasure for the sake of the kingdom of God – not the things of this world – and then we can begin enjoying the values of the kingdom here and now.
“Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of my disciples will receive a great reward.”  The great reward ultimately being the kingdom of heaven – but also the kindness others will show us – because of the kindness we showed them.
And of course the lesson of today – we must forgive others from our hearts – if we expect the same forgiveness to be shown us.
The expectation was there. . . the master said to his servant: “I forgave your whole debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?? Then in anger his master handed him over to the tortures until he should pay back the whole debt.”
And then Jesus’ lesson in this story: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.”
As the father taught his son in the story – so Jesus teaches us:
Life gives back to us everything we say or do. Our lives are simply an echo of our words and actions.
If we want more love in the world, we need to create more love in our hearts.
When our words are kind – the people we speak to will also be kind.
And if we forgive one another from our hearts – then the Lord will forgive us. . .
Which is why Jesus taught us to pray:
Forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us. . .
So as we leave this place today – let’s put the echo principle into action – Let’s help create a more loving world by creating more love in our hearts.
And a more forgiving world – by being more forgiving.
Two good ole boys from southern Missouri were out in the woods hunting -- when one of them fell to the ground.
He did not seem to be breathing and his eyes were rolled back in his head.
The other hunter started to panic, then whips out his cell phone and calls 911.
He frantically blurts out to the operator, “My friend Bubba is dead. What can I do??”
The operator, trying to calm him down says, “Take it easy. I can help. Just listen to me and follow my directions. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There’s a short pause, and then the operator hears a loud gun shot.
The hunter comes back on the line and says, “OK, now what???””
Sometimes, it’s easy to HEAR the words someone else is speaking --- without LISTENING to what they are really saying.
Most disputes among us – even among those of us who call ourselves Christians – arise because we may hear what someone else is saying --- but we aren’t listening. We think we know what’s being said – but we don’t clarify the situation before jumping to unnecessary and unhelpful conclusions. . .
and that’s when disagreements, and disputes, and arguments, and misunderstandings, and hurt feelings can begin. . .
Hearing is one of the body’s five senses-- it comes to us naturally – but listening is a skill that needs to be developed. And most people do not listen with the intent to understand --- they listen -- with the intent to reply.
So even as we listen to someone talking to us – our brains are already formulating a reply even before the other person has stopped speaking.
And often, we are so eager to express our opinions that we interrupt the other person in mid- speech, which is always rude –
and may cause the other person to say-- maybe with a little attitude: “Can you just let me finish what I’m saying??”
And so tempers may flare, and egos are bruised, and an argument may ensue --- all because we were hearing the words – but not listening. . .
Jesus has a remedy for this. . . first of all notice that the word LISTEN was used 4 times in this Gospel reading – indicating, I think, that most disputes could be avoided if we just LISTENED! After all, as the saying goes, that’s why we have two ears and only one mouth. . .
So Jesus says, if you’re having trouble with someone else – go and talk with them. If they LISTEN TO YOU – then the disagreement will come to an end.
GO AND TALK WITH THEM—NOT avoid them because you disagree with them – not stand there and yell at them – not to start telling others what a jerk someone else is --- and certainly NOT: post it on Facebook – because that’s a very anonymous way of just spreading rumor, gossip, and disregard – rather than actually solving a problem!
The first step Jesus gives us: go and talk with the person – is often times more easier said, then done.
If you go and talk it out – and they don’t LISTEN to you – then take one or two others with you – in Jesus’ day for evidence to stand up in a Roman Court of Law – two or three witnesses were needed to sustain the charge—hence this step in conflict resolution.
But, sometimes -- someone else who is a bit removed from the heat of the disagreement – may be able to better explain what’s going on --- and what needs to be resolved.
And also Jesus tells us where two or three are gathered together – he will be with us. . .
And if they still refuse to LISTEN – report it to the community; and if there is still no LISTENING going on – then treat them like a pagan or a tax collector.
Certainly a logical process that is applicable in addressing wrong-doing or resolving a conflict. But it all depends on one important factor – LISTENING!
For any dialogue, or discussion, or a debate – listening to the other person is necessary – otherwise things just have a tendency to escalate – maybe even turn violent.
So is this Gospel just about addressing a wrong-doing or resolving a conflict? Maybe --- but it could be more than that – because of the line:
“if they refuse to listen to the community – then treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Which is interesting advice since this passage is taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel who – himself – was a tax collector before Jesus called him to follow after him.
In Jesus day, a pagan was understood to be one who doesn’t know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob --- and a tax collector is one who is concerned only with material gain.
So to treat a person as a pagan or as a tax collector is to understand that the person does not know the voice of God and does not know how to listen to God – and so compassion and understanding is to be shown to them. . .
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,” as St. Paul tells us in the second reading.
I think what Jesus is telling us in this Gospel is what I tell each and every couple that comes to me for marriage preparation --- having problems is not the problem – as EVERYONE has problems.
But not knowing how to DEAL with the problems – is the problem
Jesus has a remedy for this. It is a process that involves two very important things --- going and TALKING with the person with whom we are having difficulty----- and then LISTENING –
Remembering all the while that we have two ears and only one mouth – indicating that perhaps we need to do twice as much listening as we do talking.
Nothing could more needed in our Church and country --- and in our families – than this, today: talking and listening.
Peter is having a pretty good day today –he is able to clearly articulate what he believes about Jesus: “You are the Christ – the Son of the living God.”
What Peter will find out, if he doesn’t already know it – is that speaking those words and living those words – are two different things. We will have to look no further than next Sunday’s Gospel to find out that Peter cannot always put his beliefs into action.
There is a simple message to today’s Gospel – and that is once we place our faith in Jesus Christ – our lives HAVE TO BE different.
The Jesuit priest, Father Pedro Arrupe, who was once the superior general of the Jesuits once said:
“Nothing is more practical than falling in love with Christ in an absolute and final way. For what you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, what amazes you with joy and gratitude – so fall in love with Christ!”
Once we place our faith in Jesus Christ – our lives HAVE TO BE different. We should be more kind, and gentle, and accepting. . .
Which brings me to the story I want to share with you today. It’s a story which is not only good for the first weeks of school – remind our children of how they need to be kind –
but also a good reminder to us all – of just ONE WAY we can live out our faith in Jesus Christ.
[I then shared the following story]
Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
One morning, as we settled into our seats, the classroom door opened and the principal came in. She had a girl with her, and she said to is, This is Maya. Maya looked down at the floor. I think I heard her whisper: Hello.
We all stared at her. Her coat was open and the clothes beneath it looked old and ragged. Her shoes were spring shoes, not meant for the snow we were having. A strap on them had broken.
Our teacher, Ms. Albert said, Say good morning to our new student. But most of us were silent.
The only empty seat was next to me. That’s where our teacher put Maya. And on that first day, Maya turned and smiled. But I didn’t smile back. O moved my chair, myself and my books a little farther away from her. When she looked my way, I turned to the window and stared at the snow.
And every day after that, when Maya came into the classroom, I looked away and didn’t smile back.
My best friends that year were Kendra and Sophie. At lunchtime, we walked around the school yard, our fingers laced together, whispering secrets into each other’s ears.
One day, while we were near the slide, Maya came over to us. She held open her hand to show us the shiny jacks and tiny red ball she’d gotten for her birthday. It’s a high bouncer, she said. But none of us wanted to play:
So Maya played a game against herself.
That afternoon, when we got back into the classroom, Maya whispered to me, Bet you can’t guess who the new Jacks Champion of the World is.
Behind me, Andrew whispered, Chloe’s got a new friend. Chloe’s got a new friend.
She’s NOT my friend, I whispered back.
The weeks passed. Every day, we whispered about Maya, laughing at her clothes, her shoes, the strange food she brought for lunch.
Some days, Maya held out her hand to show us what she had brought to school – a deck of cards, pick up sticks, a small tattered doll.
Whenever she asked us to play, we said NO.
The days grew warmer and warmer. The pond thawed. Grass began growing where snow had once been.
One day, Maya came to school wearing a pretty dress and fancy shoes. But the shoes and the dress looked like they’d belonged to another girl before Maya.
I have a new name for her, Kendra whispered. Never New. Everything she has come from a secondhand store.
We all laughed. Maya stood by the fence. She was holding a jump rope but did not come over to us to ask if we wanted to play. After a while, she folded it double, rolled the ends around each hand and started jumping. She jumped around the whole school yard without stopping. She didn’t look up once. Just jumped, jumped, jumped.
The next day, Maya’s seat was empty. In class that morning we were talking about kindness.
Ms. Albert had brought a big bowl into class and filled it with water. We all gathered around her desk and watched her drop a small stone into it. Tiny waves rippled out, away from the stone. This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.
Then Ms. Albert let us each drop a stone in as we told her what kind things we had done.
Joseph had held the door for his grandmother. Kendra helped change her baby brother’s diaper. Even mean old Andrew had done something. I carried teacher’s books up the stairs, he said. And Ms. Albert said it was true.
I stood there, holding Ms. Albert’s rock in my hand, silent. Even small things count, Ms. Albert said gently. But I couldn’t think of anything and passed the stone on.
Maya did not come to school the next day. Or the day after that. Each morning, I walked to school slowly, hoping this would be the day Maya returned and she’d look at me and smile. I promised myself this would be the day I smiled back. Each kindness, Ms. Albert had said, makes the whole world a little bit better.
But Maya’s seat remained empty. And one day, Ms. Albert announced to the class that Maya wouldn’t be coming back. Her family had to move away, Ms. Albert said. Then she told us to take out our notebooks, it was time for spelling.
That afternoon, I walked home alone. When I reached he pond, my throat filled with all the things I wished I would have said to Maya. Each kindness I had never shown.
I threw small stones into the pond, over and over. Watching the way the water rippled out and away. Out and away.
Like each kindness – done or not done. Like every girl somewhere – holding a small gift out to someone and that someone turning away from it.
I watched the water ripple as the sun set through the maples and the chance of a kindness with Maya becoming more and more forever gone.
[End of story]
Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world. And it either changes the world for the better or for worse.
Once we say, as did Peter: You are the Christ! The son of the living God. Jesus expects us to change the world for the better by what we say and do.
In today’s opening song, “Come, Christians, join to sing!” – we heard the words, “Loud praise to Christ our King.”
Later in the liturgy we will pray the Lord’s prayer together and will begin by saying, “Our Father.”
It’s hard to talk about the divine, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without becoming a little possessive by using phrases such as OUR God, or MY Savior. . .
And if we use this sort of language only to claim familiarity with God -- while fully embracing the universality of God – the idea that the entire human family comprises God’s daughters and sons ---- then we are on solid ground.
But sadly, that is NOT always the case – not just in today’s modern times – but in ancient times as well – that possessiveness is meant to include some – while excluding others. . .
This is quite evident in the Gospel story from St. Matthew which we just heard proclaimed.
This is one of the stories that at least for me – can be hard to listen to. After all, Jesus says some pretty harsh things.
A Canaanite woman comes to ask Jesus to heal her daughter.
Now remember, when Joshua took over from Moses and led the Israelites into the land of milk and honey – that promised land already belonged to other people ---
the Canaanites – who from that day forward, became bitter enemies --- one group because someone took what was theirs and claimed it as their own, and the other group because someone was standing in the way of what God had led them to and promised them.
So -- at first Jesus ignores this woman . . . Then he says that he only came to save the lost sheep of Israel. And THEN he basically calls her a dog. All tough stuff --- so un-Christ-like.
Yet, what Jesus is doing--- is NOT saying what is in HIS heart. Rather he is saying and doing what his disciples and what all other Jewish people at the time would have thought.
Ignoring, dismissing, insulting – this is the common way Israelites, the Jews, would have treated Canaanites --- and, for full discloser -- certainly how Canaanites would have treated Jews. . . Theirs was a mutual disrespect and disregard. . .
The disciples were probably THRILLED with Jesus’ words and behavior. That is – until he turns the situation upside-down, as he so often does, by saying to this woman: “Oh woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Wait a minute, the disciples would have thought. This is our God --- the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of these heathen Canaanites. . . Why should our God care about them—when we certainly don’t. . .
For many people in the ancient world, including those following after Jesus – their God or gods – were NOT the God of ALL --- NOT protective of ALL, NOT the friend of ALL. God is on our side – NOT theirs. . .