Respecting God’s Children, Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 2, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
October 2, 2011
Is 5:1-7, Ps 80:9 12-16 19-20, Phi 4:6-9, Mt 21:33-43

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

RESPECTING GOD’S CHILDREN

  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a very powerful parable about salvation history that his Jewish listeners would be able to grasp. It was also a prophecy of precisely what was going to happen to him.
    • In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah said that God had given his vineyard — a symbol for the house of Israel, which he had blessed not only with the promised land but so many spiritual gifts — to his beloved. God himself had done so much of the work in creation, digging it, clearing it of stones, planting within it choice vines, building a watch tower and a wine vat. But instead of great grapes and vintage wine, what came? Wild grapes that were good for nothing. The wild grapes came not from bad vines or soil or lack of rain, but came totally and exclusively through neglect or worse. It’s implied that it could have come from deception, with the tenants keeping the good grapes and giving the Lord just wild grapes. Instead of the fruit of justice, God saw bloodshed. Instead of holiness, he heard cries of complaint. God announced through Isaiah that therefore he was going to remove its hedge, break down its walls, such that it will be devastated. He said he would stop the rain.
    • When Jesus gave the parable in the Gospel, he was building on the image of the House of Israel producing just wild grapes. He said that the landowner, God, who had planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press and built a watchtower and then lent it to tenants sent his servants to the tenants to collect the produce — rent — at harvest time. These servants, of course, were the prophets. But rather than respond to the prophets or ask the owner through the prophets for help, their response was to kill the messengers. They “beat one, killed another and stoned a third.” The landowner, God, who is slow to anger and rich in mercy, gave them another chance and sent other servants, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son, saying, “They will respect my son!” But they did to him what the leaders of the House of Israel — the chief priests, Pharisees and scribes did to Jesus — they said, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” That’s what they did, when two weeks later in Pontius Pilate’s courtyard they would cry out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”. And God said that he would take away the vineyard from them — the kingdom of God! — and give it to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom, the fruits of holiness, the fruits of a life with God.
  • What was at work in the refusal of the tenants to produce a harvest?  Within their hearts they did not want to be STEWARDS of the vineyard, but OWNERS. They did not want to have a God over them; they wanted to be gods themselves. Like power-hungry princes who kill any other claimants to the throne, they killed anyone who tried to teach them otherwise. The great English writer C.S. Lewis once said that the devil always tries to get us to think we’re owners. He wants us to say, like a whining little baby on its most selfish days, “Mine!”:  “It’s my life, it’s my work, it’s my money, it’s my family, it’s my future, it’s my Sunday — Mine! Mine! Mine!”
  • On this Respect Life Sunday, it’s important for all of us in the Church to recognize this temptation to pretend we’re owners of the world, that we’re owners of our own lives, that we’re owners of others, rather than stewards, stewards of God’s many gifts, that our life is a gift of God, that others’ lives are gifts, and that we’re called with respect to these gifts to bear not wild grapes but real the fruit of love. Once we start to try to become “gods” rather than serve God, owners rather than stewards, we become capable of the most terrible of deeds. Like those in the parable, we will resent God’s message and his messengers. Rather than bringing us to conversion, this message will make us angry, fearful of our own turf, and our response will be to try to eliminate the messengers so that we can focus on our own message rather than God’s. And we will become capable even of killing God’s own sons and daughters.
  • As tragic as this is, we see it over-and-again in various aspects of what Blessed John Paul II called the culture of death.
    • Abortion
      • This sin starts, generally, by saying we, rather than God, determine what we do with our bodies, that we’re owners rather than stewards. Rather than following his commandments about the great gift of human sexuality, which says that this gift of becoming one flesh with another is reserved only to those with whom he has joined us in one flesh in marriage, we can tune him out, start to engage in sinful sexual activity and then, when a pregnancy results from that activity, rather than respecting his son or daughter, we can decide to kill that child made in his image and likeness. A similar thing can happen within a marriage. Every act of love in a marriage is meant to be open to life, meaning that we can’t intentionally do something on our own to try to take out the God-given potential of the act. If married couples try, however, to separate love from life, unity from procreation, through the use of contraception by which they are saying “no, no, no!” to a child and “No, no, no!” to God’s will, it’s not all that surprising that if they conceive a child they keep saying “no” to both the child and to God.
      • Women can begin to believe that she’s the owner of her own body and that she has the “right” to do whatever she wants to with her body, even if it means killing the innocent child growing in her womb. And this has happened nearly 50 million times in the United States “legally” since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
      • The killing of innocent children is the worst “wild grape” of all, the worst manifestation of a homicidal reaction to God’s goodness that exists in our culture. Unfortunately it’s not the only one.
    • Euthanasia
      • There’s now a movement to push physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts. If those pushing it get their way, it will come up for a vote in the legislature next Spring and possibly appear as an initiative petition on the ballot in November 2012. It would give doctors permission to write lethal prescriptions to kill their patients if the patients request it and meet certain criteria. Rather than helping those tempted toward suicide, in other words, they’ll help them die. This is already happening in some European countries and in two states, Oregon and Washington. We see in those two northwestern states that the rate of suicide has skyrocketed. No surprise there. Once government starts to act as if suicide is a good thing under certain circumstances, should we be surprised that others, including teenagers, start following the lead? We see in Scandanavia, that involuntary euthanasia is also skyrocketing; once people in a culture or especially in the medical professions begin to think that certain lives are not worth living and help patients to kill themselves, it’s no big surprise that they start taking the decision out of the hands of those whose lives they deem worthless and start playing God themselves.
      • Rather than respect the dignity of every human being, and the God who gave them that dignity, they start taking matters into their own hands and killing.
    • We also see it in the production and destruction of human embryos.
      • Today in laboratories, scientists are making human beings, fusing male and female gametes to make children used for one of two purposes: either to implant them in women who are hoping to have children or to kill them to harvest their stem cells for research. Both are terribly wrong and another application of the same principles. And both lead to a series of other evils, other wild grapes.
      • Couples or individuals can begin to think that whatever we can do, we have a right to do. Couples can begin to think they have a right to a child no matter what, and when they can’t conceive a child on their own, they just manufacture one in a laboratory. Sometimes they do so with a husband’s gametes; other times they just choose sperm from a catalogue of sperm donors. No rights are given to children even to know who their father is, what their roots are. What’s better for kids is not thought about, because the potential parents are trying to play God. After they conceive children, some are implanted, some are killed through “selective reduction” (abortion of twins in the womb), and some are deep frozen indefinitely. Rather than respecting the gift of human life, we treat others as simply raw materials to our ends.
      • Likewise with creating embryos for research. Kids are made simply to be killed so that we can use their stem cells to try to help others. This is straight out of the Nazi annals.
  • The key for us is facing this reality, what are we going to do about it. God has sent us his prophets, but are we going to seize them, beat them, stone them or kill them — like in the Gospel — or are we going to heed them and join them in recognizing that if we don’t bear good grapes from the gifts God has given us — of our life, our marriages and families, our country, and our Church — literally all hell will break loose and God will allow us to suffer the consequences of the evil we’re doing.
  • What are we doing about the culture of death?
    • Are we joining the evil doers and adding to the harvest of wild grapes?
    • Or are we trying to oppose them and bear up true fruit for God?
  • One of the most startling realities is how many Catholics are the biggest advocates of the culture of death. And like the devil who cites Sacred Scripture all the time, they try to cite Church teaching, taken out of context, that they’re following their conscience in supporting abortion, or euthanasia, or in-vitro, or false versions of marriage, no fault divorce and so many other things. As if God were whispering to them in conscience that they should kill their children in the womb or help their father or mother commit suicide in the nursing home or like Dr. Frankenstein create a human being in a laboratory for whatever its purpose. They are so very mistaken. Many of them have just been misled by false prophets and difficult circumstances, but there are some, many, who should know better, and who go against God and the Catholic faith even after their bishops, their priests, the Pope himself and many family members tell them how wrong they are. They think they have a right to vote any way they want, and no one — even God — will tell them it’s wrong if they think it’s right. If we’re in this camp, we need to convert.
  • But converting to thinking as God thinks is not enough. We have to do something when God’s sons and daughters are being killed. We need to get involved. First thing we always do is pray and pray sincerely, but then we need to work. We need compassionately to reach out to those who are hurting and afraid because of an unwanted or difficult pregnancy, those who are in agony at the end of their life and tempted to give up all hope and meaning, those couples who desperately want to have kids but can’t conceive, or those people with diseases like Parkinson’s who believe the hype about the possibilities of a cure if we create and destroy human embryos. We have to reach out to care for them as our second step after prayer. And then we need to get involved in changing the culture, through our friendships, our advocacy, our money and our voting. We need to have the courage to help people to recognize that intrinsic evils like abortion, euthanasia, IVF and embryonic stem cell destruction are always wrong. We need to consider joining groups of those who see it this way so that we can gain strength through numbers. We need to donate to those who are on the front-lines if we can’t join them on the front-lines. And then we need to vote our Catholic values, recognizing that voting is a supremely moral act that must correspond to what God is asking of us. We’re not gods when we enter the voting booth determining good or evil according to our own criteria, but we’re stewards of the life God has given us, of the culture around us, of our city, our state, our country.
  • The vineyard God is giving us was once bearing much fruit. Scores of vocations. Strong marriages. Care for seniors. So many orphages helping to raise kids and adoption. We don’t have this anymore to the same degree. We’re producing lots of wild grapes. God has sent us his prophets, including the Pope and bishops, priests, and deacons, and so many great lay leaders, to tell us of this, but we need to heed their message and follow what God is telling us through them. And he sends us his Son, believing we will respect him. The Son who tells us whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me. We respect his Son by loving him in the least.
  • As we prepare to receive that Son, that Word-made-flesh, let us ask him to strengthen us, to commit ourselves to defend, protect and promote him and his dignity in others, especially the most vulnerable, so that we might once again raise up a culture that respects life, every life, and begins to bear fruit worthy of the kingdom.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1IS 5:1-7

Let me now sing of my friend,
my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside;
he spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but what it yielded was wild grapes.

Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?
Now, I will let you know
what I mean to do with my vineyard:
take away its hedge, give it to grazing,
break through its wall, let it be trampled!
Yes, I will make it a ruin:
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
but overgrown with thorns and briers;
I will command the clouds
not to send rain upon it.
The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his cherished plant;
he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
for justice, but hark, the outcry!

Responsorial Psalm PS 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20

R/ (Is 5:7a) The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
A vine from Egypt you transplanted;
you drove away the nations and planted it.
It put forth its foliage to the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.
R/ The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
Why have you broken down its walls,
so that every passer-by plucks its fruit,
The boar from the forest lays it waste,
and the beasts of the field feed upon it?
R/ The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
R/ The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
O LORD, God of hosts, restore us;
if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.
R/ The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.

Reading 2PHIL 4:6-9

Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

Gospel MT 21:33-43

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”