A woman who was a grandmother ran a small store in a southern rural town where everyone knew everyone else - as well as their business.
Almost on a daily basis a customer would come in, and when the woman asked how they were doing - they would start in with a litany of complaints: it was too hot or it was too cool; they could not plow because the ground was too hard from lack of rain, or too wet because of too much rain. Cattle prices are up - but hog prices are down. . . and on they would go.
Whenever this happened, the woman would look at her grandaughter who helped her in the store and give her a nod.
Later, after the complainer left, she would try to teach her grandaughter a lesson by saying:
“did you hear that? Those people have all they really need, and yet they still complain.
There are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, the rich & poor, the young & old - who will never wake again. They expected another day, but never got one. Their bedsheets became their burial sheets.
And those people would give anything, anything at all, for just five minutes of this weather, or 10 minutes of plowing a field.
So be careful when you complain, my dear one. What you are supposed to do when you don’t like something – is change it. And if you can’t change it - then change the way you think about it.”
Jesus’ society was different than our own, of course. The usual daily wage was a denarius - which was enough to feed one’s family for a day.
The only thing the generous landowner of the vineyard was doing was to make sure that none of the people who worked for him that day – even those who came to work at 5 in the evening - would have to beg, borrow, or steal in order to feed their families the next day.
The owner was fair with all – but generous with some – crazy with generosity, to borrow an image Deacon Jim used with forgiveness last week for those who heard him.
And so the ones who got their fair salary, the usual daily wage - but not the extra bonus - complained. And those with whom the owner was generous - certainly were grateful.
Now, we do have to admit - that there are advantages to complaining. . . It helps us get things off our chest instead of letting things build up. Complaining many times helps us sort out our thoughts and it sometimes helps us get things done – when we don’t like something, we can work to change it. And if we can’t change it, then we can change the way we think about it.
But we have to be careful not to make complaining a way of life - which many people do - no matter what, they are the half-empty glass people, rather than the half-full people. And those constant complainers can just suck the life out of the rest of us. . .
And we have to be careful that our complaining is not done out of envy of what others have or receive – like the people in today’s Gospel.
And IF we are going to complain - we should also take the time to count our blessings.
Jesus’ parable is really about salvation, of course. Remember Jesus received a lot of criticism for associating with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners.
The religious leaders of his day thought people such as those Jesus hung out with had little chance of being saved. They thought only they - the scribes and Pharisees, the Saduccees and the priests – were deserving of salvation.
But this parable of Jesus – along with his own words and actions – was saying God’s mercy is available at any time to anyone who responds to God’s invitation to be saved.
It’s never too late! It’s not always smart to decide to wait until the last minute – because many times a person’s bed sheets become their burial sheets. The challenge coming from St. Paul is to “conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ” NOW - not later.
But this parable can be a caution against other things too:
How many times have we thought or said:
God isn’t fair!!
Fortunately God ISN’T fair – if fair means we get what we deserve. God is more than fair. God is crazy with generosity with us all.
But so often we think God is being more generous to someone else and we are more deserving. . .
Even IF we are more deserving, and only God knows that – we will only make ourselves miserable by drawing comparisons.
We will always find someone who appears to be better off than we are. Rather than comparing ourselves with others –it’s best to focus on God’s goodness to us and to trust that God is more than fair toward any of us.
We all have our problems and struggles, our fears and anxieties. But we also have much to be thankful for.
And that’s why we gather here to celebrate the Eucharist – a word which means “thanksgiving”. Because this is the most perfect way to show God that we are grateful.
(A book by Cheri Meiners: Talk and Work it Out):
Erin, whose name means peace in Gaelic, was trying to learn how to get along with lots of different people.
Because sometimes she did not agree with her brother. And sometimes she did not get along with her friends.
But Erin was slowly figuring out it's okay to have different ideas and opinions.
She is also figuring out that when someone really does something that bothers her -she doesn’t have to give them the cold shoulder – she can choose to work things out.
She can stop and take a deep breath to calm herself. Before saying something she may regret.
Erin can choose to take some time to think about what to do - before choosing to act, hopefully making things better rather than worse.
Erin can talk to the person who has bothered her: looking at the person and explaining how she has been hurt.
Then, together, they can choose to talk about the problem. Both trying to listen and understand each other.
Together, they can choose to think about ways to solve their problem, hurt, or misunderstanding.
And then choose the best way to move forward.
Erin can choose to listen and think about how the other person feels.
She can certainly learn more about a problem when listening to another point of view.
As Erin talks about the problem, she can choose to be polite and friendly, rather than trying to blame or just being nasty about it all. This certainly can help everyone feel good, and valued, and to be able to understand things better.
Working together, they can probably come up with lots of ideas to move forward - again, if they just listen to one another.
Both can simply ask the question: what do you think?
And then If the problem is still unresolved: they can ask others for their help and input.
Then, they can think about each idea:
-What might happen if we did this?
-Can we both walk away happy?
-Do we just have to sit a bit with our ideas before we move on?
Erin wants to have a plan that’s good for her and the one she is having conflict with – and she has many, many, MANY choices to make sure this happens.
Erin and the other person might choose to share, to take turns, to cooperate to make things work or do something nice instead of holding on to the anger or hurt.
Even when it is hard to find an answer everyone likes, which often happens - Erin knows she can still choose to be respectful to the other person – which is one of the more important choices she can make.
Erin is trying to learn how to solve problems peacefully -- and is finding out that getting along with others can even be more important than always getting her way.
Erin has found that if she cares about someone else's ideas and feelings as much as she does her own -- - she can usually find a way to work things out: by all the different choices she can make along the way. After all, she does want to live up to her name: Erin: which means peace in Gaelic.
(End of Book)
Jesus calls us to be saints – but he knows we aren’t there yet.
And Jesus calls us to love one another as he has loved us - but he know we aren’t there yet.
Because Jesus knows wherever two or three are gathered – there is going to be conflict – misunderstandings – hurt feelings – and anger – if we also don’t make the right choices along the way. . .
No one I know enjoys conflict. And not many people I know like confrontation - but if we are going to be saints, if we are going to love each other – then we have to do these things.
Trouble is, no one ever really teaches us how to do them. . . and that’s what Jesus is trying to do today - teach us how to resolve conflict.
1st, we go and talk to that person we are having difficulty with – not talk ABOUT them. Not GOSSIP about them - but go and talk with them.
If that doesn’t work, get some people to sit down with you – not so that you are ganging up on the person - but so that you can put many minds and hearts to the task of figuring out a resolution.
And if that doesn’t work – take it to Church – which means we are going to put in lots of prayer time about it.
And then, when all else fails: treat them like a tax collector or a Gentile. Which how did Jesus treat these people? With patience and respect as he sat and ate with them.
If we want to be saints, as Jesus calls us to be. And we want to love others, as Jesus wants us to – then we have to be able to resolve our differences.
Otherwise, we give into the temptation of satan – who of course wants us to be divided, rather than united.
So once again, we have to be able to say: get behind me satan - because I want to think and act and speak like Jesus. . .
You have to be at least my age - maybe just a bit younger, to remember the Flip Wilson show that was on television from 1970-1974: over 50 years ago!!
We thought then it got a little racy at times - nothing like you can see on tv today - so I am sure my parents really didn’t approve of me watching it - which made it all the more appealing.
In some of its skits, it featured appearances by “Geraldine Jones” - actually Flip Wilson in a wig and dress.
Geraldine was always in trouble and did many things she wasn’t supposed to do. But she always had an answer for her misdeeds:
She would put her hand on her hip and shake a finger and say: “The devil made me do it.”
She bought three new dresses in one week: The devil made me do it.
She gossipped about her friends: The devil made me do it.
She ran her car into the side of the Church: The devil made me do it. //////
The devil made Geraldine do a lot of things - and the devil was making Peter tempt Jesus with an easy way out – rather than facing the cross. . .
Jesus knew a lot about the devil and temptations – he faced the devil down and his empty promises right after his Baptism and before he began his publicly ministry.
I like the phrase St. Luke adds to the end of Jesus’ desert experience. Luke says: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until another time.”
This is one of those other times - when Peter tries to get him to abandon the way of the cross and look for an easier out. . .
St. Matthew, himself, knew a lot about the devil and temptations. In the Gospel he writes, he mentions Satan or the devil 27 times.
And the Church knows a lot about the power of the devil and the temptations that can come our way. There are three questions during the rite of Baptism a priest or deacon asks the parents and godparents to answer on behalf of the child being Baptized:
Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises? To which the answer is: I do.
Jesus, St. Matthew, and the Church – all know a lot about the devil and the temptations that come from him — but do we??
Perhaps we think it is a bit old fashioned to believe in this negative force unleashed upon the earth by this fallen angel of heaven. But unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation – then we have no power over them.
Jesus identified satan in various ways. He called him the Prince of this world - because Satan uses material things to distract us from God. We can be tempted to adore the material, the sensual, and the powerful – rather than to adore God. The devil lures us into a false security of thinking we can build our own little kingdom here and now without any need of God.
Jesus refers to Satan as the Father of Lies: because he perverts the truth, as he did with Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. He fills our minds with doubts. He provides rationalizations why something is right — even though we know through Jesus and the teaching of the Church they are wrong.
Jesus calls the devil the Prince of Darkness - one who lurks about and is crafty. He fills us with pessimistic and hateful thoughts. He shows us all the hurts, frustrations and troubles of this world and our own lives hoping to lead us to despair by sucking out all the joy from us and our lives.
And finally, Jesus calls satan the murderer - who seeks to kill the grace of God in our soul – that help which God gives us to live our lives with integrity and peace: in imitation of Jesus.
Unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation - then we have no power over them. And we will see no need to heed the advice of St. Paul in our second reading from the Romans –
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation - then we have no power over them – and will see no need to echo Jesus words in our daily lives: “Get behind me, satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
But if we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation – then we will surely know the need we have for the Eucharist –
when sinners gather to be refreshed and renewed by the very body and blood of Christ to be transformed more and more into his image and likeness.
Because what difference does it make if the bread and wine on the altar are changed into the body and blood of Christ – if those who gather at the altar remain the same?
This time we have together, gathering with like-minded individuals – is our time to recharge our spiritual batteries – so that we can do out best to fight the devil and all his empty promises throughout the week — and hopefully by doing that: we make the kingdom of God more present in us and in our world.
Most of you know I was a Benedictine for the first years of my priesthood. And St. Benedict has in his Rule for Monks a chapter that I think is appropriate for us today. I have changed some nouns and pronouns to make it fit our parish situation.
It’s Chapter 72 of the Rule: The Good Zeal of Monks – changed to the Good Zeal of Christians. St. Benedict writes:
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell – so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life.
This, then, is the good zeal which Christians must foster with fervent love:
They should each try to be the first to show their respect to one another, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in compassion for one another.
No one is to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.
To their fellow Christians they show the pure love of brothers and sisters, to God - loving fear. And to their pastoral leaders unfeigned and humble love.
Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.
Or as Jesus would simply say: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Moments in time...