Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21 :33-43
Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen October 8, 2023
Most of you to whom I am speaking today know that last week I was on retreat with many of the other priests of our diocese. I would also like to say that it was quite an enjoyable time for me for a couple of reasons. First, I believe the priest who led the retreat was excellent. Second, I had very good feelings toward most of the younger priests who were there. Third, I joined in some very good conversations with some of my priest friends.
One priest shared with me his growing-up stories, and like me and my family, we both had a lot in common. However, although both of our parents were children during the Great Depression, the effects it had on their lives were different. Perhaps his father and mother had a more difficult time than mine; it caused his family to try and save all they could, to not share with others, and they passed this on to their children. So, he said to me, “to this day I find it difficult being generous with what I have.”
This, of course, brings me to the image of the vineyards found in today’s readings. Isaiah is speaking to the people of Israel, the people God has chosen to be his very own, chosen from out of all the other people in the world. Now God did not choose the Jewish people because they were special, and nor was their choosing meant to give them some kind of power or privilege over others. Israel, the Jewish people, were chosen to image the goodness, the mercy, and the generosity of God to all the other people of the world.
Matthew uses Isaiah’s story to explain to his community that the privilege of being the chosen people of God has expanded beyond Israel; it is given to everyone, every nation. All are welcomed in the Lord’s vineyard, and all have a role in making it grow and flourish. For us modern followers of Jesus, this message remains pretty much the same. The vineyard has been entrusted to all of us, and we are called to work together, not only to care for the Good News of the Gospel but to give it life, to help it grow by the lives we lead. We, today, are meant to mirror God to our world.
We are called to share and share generously, to share God's own generosity with us, if you will—with others. It’s probably best to take the position that in reality we own nothing.
This is a pretty unattractive notion to us in some ways, as our whole way of life, especially in this country, is based on how much you own and how wealthy you are. But I'm not suggesting that we abandon our economic values. I'm suggesting that we allow ourselves to be challenged by Jesus, to acknowledge that all that we have comes from God; we must be willing to share our possessions as God wills.
As I said, my priest friend is still not very good at sharing, but he is getting better at it. Yet it does seem to me that the more I have, the more I cling to what I have. It is as though the more I earn, the more afraid I am of experiencing the level of need that seemed just fine a few years ago. A large part of my problem with generosity is, I think after reading today's Gospel, due to this tendency to view my money and possessions as belonging to me.
Just like everyone else, I work to earn a living and provide some contribution, some measure of help for my family and friends. But it is God who makes all this possible. The risk of protecting ourselves from any kind of economic insecurity is that we wind up protecting ourselves from God. Jesus makes it clear, if we continually reject God's call to give back the fruits of our harvest, we risk separating ourselves from God permanently. At the end of the day, regardless of whose name is on the title to our personal property, we are just renters in God's Kingdom. While we may fear poverty, we cannot afford to say "no" when God asks us to give. We owe our deep gratitude, and the fruits of all our labor, back to God.