Trusting in the Lord’s Ruling Over Us, 20th Wednesday (I), August 19, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. John Eudes
August 19, 2015
Judges 9:6-15, Ps 21, Mt 20:1-16

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In the first reading from the Book of Judges, we see how when we don’t want the Lord to rule over us, we will be vulnerable to being ruled basically by the devil. Throughout the desert, God was teaching the Israelites to obey him and let him lead them, but they often resisted, longing to return to Egypt in slavery under Pharaoh rather than trust in the Lord. After they crossed into the Promised Land, they often totally forgot the Lord or rebelled against them. The Lord routinely raised up judges to deliver them, to show them how to obey him anew, to call them to conversion, but as soon as the judges died they rebelled again. After Gideon as we see yesterday defeated 135,000 Midianites with 300 soldiers, they asked him to rule over them, but he reminded them that they already had a ruler, God himself. But as soon as he died, his son by a concubine, Abimelech, desirous of being king and knowing that the people wanted someone to rule over them, decided to try to kill all seventy of his half-brothers and assume the throne. He killed 69, with only his youngest half-brother Jotham escaping. And the carnage was just beginning. Later he would burn down the tower with various elders meeting in it, killing them in the process. Eventually Jothan, his half-brother, would come out from hiding, go to the top of Mount Gerizim, and give the parable we hear in today’s first reading. The trees wanted a ruler, but the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine refused, and so they got the buckthorn, representing Abimelech, who replied, “‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’” He was one who devoured. The same history would take place with the Jews in the desire for a king. Eventually they got Saul who himself would become a paranoid megalomaniac. They were susceptible to getting the leaders they deserved precisely because they were intent not to have the Lord rule them. They wanted to decide. There are still many lessons for us about our own political leaders and what we get when we begin to think not about how individuals can help create the context for everyone to follow God’s lead, but rather about how to take the place of God.
  • But even for us who choose to live by Christian principles, who seek to vote for the most moral of leaders, many times we fail likewise to want God to rule over us, because God’s ways are not our ways. At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus says for the second day in a row, “The last will be first, and the first will be last,” something that we find highly unjust in our ambitions. We prefer the first to be first, and that we be the first! This Parable of the Landowners and Vineyard workers makes two profound points we can ponder about God’s kingdom, the place or state in which God truly rules over us.
    • The first point is that to enter into the Kingdom of God we need to work. God calls workers into his vineyard, laborers, those who can help him urgently take in his harvest. He goes out several times in the day and calls people to come to exert themselves. Notice that he doesn’t give things out of charity to the people sitting idle in the marketplace. He gives them something to do. Insofar as this parable is about the harvest of men and women, we can say no one will enter the kingdom without responding to the Harvest Master’s calling and sending them as laborers in his fields. We are entering into his kingdom when we’re doing apostolate, when we’re seeking to make disciples, when we’re strenuously laboring for God’s harvest. Heaven, while a grace, isn’t a handout. God wants us to work for him and with him in his fields. Do we want a Lord with these principles to rule over us?
    • The second point is about God’s generosity. In the Parable he gives everyone the same payment and those who went to work complain out of envy, thinking that they should have gotten more than the ones who worked only an hour. We can understand their point. As the owner says in the Parable, however, he had given them what he had promised — and it’s his prerogative to be extra generous to others. We know that this Parable points to the path of salvation and that Dismas on Jesus’ right on Calvary, as well as the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, and 11 of the 12 apostles, will receive the same full life’s wage for their work in the vineyard, however disparate. Do we want a Lord who rules over us like this, and rewards the spiritual johnny-come-latelies just like he rewards us? If we resent that generosity, it’s likely because we resent God’s ruling over us and are only working in his vineyard, are only faithful, because we feel we have to be in lieu of a future eternal payment, rather than because we realize living by the Gospel is itself a great blessing.
  • Today the Church celebrates the feast of someone who lived with God as King and who sought as a laborer in the Lord’s vast vineyards to bring in his harvest. St. John Eudes was one of the great saints of the 17th century, spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. During the time of the plague, he recognized that so many souls were dying in the fields, and so he worked indefatigably to try to bring the sacraments to them at the risk of his own life. Many other priests were idle in their priests’ houses as people were dying, but he was out there, active. He began to realize that the state of their souls was worse than their bacteriologically infested bodies and so he founded a Congregation of Jesus and Mary to preach missions to bring them back to the Lord, so that they might convert from not allowing the Lord to rule over them and might follow the Lord’s rule along the path of holiness. Over the course of his priesthood, he preached 110 missions — which would have lasted several weeks to months — powerfully describing the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the way we’re called to respond by imitating and entering into Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
  • St. John got the strength to labor in the vineyard precisely through the Eucharist, which we preached upon with passion. He said we would need three eternities properly to respond to the Mass: the first eternity to prepare for it, the second to celebrate it, and the third to thank God for it. And it was at the altar each day that he allowed the Lord to rule over him, as he carried out the command to “do this in memory” of him first through the Sacred Synaxis and second through making his life a commentary on the words of consecration. Today as we come forward, we tell the Lord that we want him to rule over his, we want his kingdom to come, we want his will to be done, and we rededicate ourselves to this call, early in the morning, to go out into his fields today with sleeves rolled up seeking to bring men and women, boys and girls, into those fields so that with us they may receive a full life’s wage and spend eternity thanking the Lord for the Gift for which St. John Eudes never ceases to praise God!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Jgs 9:6-15

All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together
and proceeded to make Abimelech king
by the terebinth at the memorial pillar in Shechem.
When this was reported to him,
Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim and, standing there,
cried out to them in a loud voice:
“Hear me, citizens of Shechem, that God may then hear you!
Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’
But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil,
whereby men and gods are honored,
and go to wave over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come; you reign over us!’
But the fig tree answered them,
‘Must I give up my sweetness and my good fruit,
and go to wave over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come you, and reign over us.’
But the vine answered them,
‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods and men,
and go to wave over the trees?’
Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’
But the buckthorn replied to the trees,
‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith,
come and take refuge in my shadow.
Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”

Responsorial Psalm PS 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (2a) Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
O LORD, in your strength the king is glad;
in your victory how greatly he rejoices!
You have granted him his heart’s desire;
you refused not the wish of his lips.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
For you welcomed him with goodly blessings,
you placed on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked life of you: you gave him
length of days forever and ever.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
Great is his glory in your victory;
majesty and splendor you conferred upon him.
You made him a blessing forever,
you gladdened him with the joy of your face.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.

Alleluia Heb 4:12

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 20:1-16

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
he found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
matthew.20.1-16