7 and 8 October 2017 Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time A Homily
My sisters and brothers in Christ.
The scriptures today again address the issue of our appreciation of the gift of salvation.
Matthew’s Gospel again uses the image of a vineyard.
It is important to recall who Jesus is addressing.
If anyone is “assured” salvation or any group or groups think they have a “lock” on entrance into the kingdom it is very likely precisely the groups that Jesús addresses today.
“The chief priests and elders” are the people addresses. These are the religious leaders of the day. Jesús wants them to understand, in the tradition of the prophets, like Isaiah, that the gift of salvation is not a right, or deserved and not something we “earn”.
Isaiah in the first reading “sings” his message about his friend who, worked so that his vineyard would produce “choicest wines”.
Despite his friend’s hard work “choice” vines the vineyard produced “wild” that is bitter grapes. The “vineyard” Isaiah tells us is “the house of Israel”.
The “cherished plants” the “friend” planted produced not justice but bloodshed. Instead of justice an “outcry” was produced!
The Gospel today is eerily appropriate.
Last Sunday night before I went to bed I heard there was a shooting in Las Vegas. I heard one person was dead and that there were some wounded.
Monday morning I learned many more had died and there were many wounded. My shock as the numbers grew and prayed for the victims. I included the victims of the shooting. I included their families, the first responders. Eventually, I included the perpetrator because he surely was a victim of some kind of sickness.
We discovered once more as a nation what one sick person can do.
Given the time, money and will, one person massacred and wounded many people in a relatively short time.
I would like to share with you one of my occasional religious practices. I have on my electronic calendar a repeat entry that is quite simple it reads “Mosque”.
There is a story here. Several months ago I was invited to go to the local Oklahoma City Islamic Center. The invitation was to participate in a project benefitting homeless women and children in Oklahoma City.
The center is next to the Mosque.
While I was there I met an Imam (a muslim prayer leader). We visited and he invited me to come on Fridays for their twenty minute “teaching”. I have gone two times before and decided that this Friday (yesterday) was a good time to go.
I expected there would be some mention of the shooting but did not expect two main points of the “teaching” which we would describe as “the preaching”.
The Imam who lead the prayers spoke about the prophet (I assume Mohammed) in his early teaching counselled non violence. The prophet taught that oppressed people and “banned” people had a special place before God and could always rely on God for protection, comfort and solace.
The second thing he said was very fascinating, moving and news to me.
The Imam said every Muslim in America has an automatic reaction to news of a shooting or especially a mass shooting anywhere in the world.
The reaction is deep and continuous and emotional. It is this: “We pray that the person who did this horrible action is not a Muslim. We are relieved if we hear, as we did Monday that the person was not a Muslim.”
I had no idea of the fear our Muslim brothers and sisters live in each day here in Oklahoma City.
The Gospel parallels last Sunday’s events in that it is a story of sickness, selfishness, greed and injustice, which left unchecked, escalates into the violent death of the son of the owner of the vineyard.
Jesús plainly makes the case to the chief priests and elders that:
“The kingdom of God will be taken from you
And given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
What this Gospel conveys to us is that our confidence that we are “just”,
“fair”, “pious”, “good” does not make it so.
We may be delusional about how accurate our “image” of ourselves really is.
Father Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, taught and spoke about the “false self”.
Our “false self” is the “persona” or “person” we would like others to think we are. We might suspect, when we are honest, that we are putting on a good imitation of the “ideal” me. In our heart of hearts we may know what we present is not always what is truly who and how we are.
Thomas Merton, invited others to discover their “true self” through prayer and contemplation.
The chief priests and elders at the time of Jesús externally “acted” the part of just and pious agents of God but inwardly they were false, deceitful and took advantage of the people they were charged with serving by leading them.
Saint Paul gives us some insight today about what the “true self” is like once we have been “taken” into the Kingdom of God.
In other words once we “empty ourselves” of selfishness, self seeking, self importance we can be possessed by and possess the Kingdom of God.
Paul tells us when we empty ourselves “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesús”.
I would like to conclude with the words Paul concluded with today:
“Keep on doing what you have learned and received…..
then the God of peace will be with you.”