25 Ordinary: Sept. 19/10, 2020
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. . .
24 Ordinary: September 12/13, 2020
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.
Moments in time...