Saturday, October 07, 2017

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) : Homily / Sermon

The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. 

(Isaiah 5:7, and the response to the Psalm)

 

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For the third week we are in the vineyard. Two weeks ago we heard about the labourers in the vineyard. Last week we heard about the sons of the vineyard owner, and this week it is the tenants, and the servants, who come to the forefront of our attention.

Yet in each parable there is a constant figure in the background. We don't learn much about him, but he is vital to all three stories. He, of course, is the Vineyard owner.

The parallels are fairly obvious. The owner of the vineyard is the Father, God himself. He hires, pays, orders and owns. The vineyard is his.

And the characters in the stories are us. The workers, the sons, the servants, the rebellious tenants. At times good, at times bad, but at all times responsible to the Owner.

But what about the vineyard? It is not simply the Jewish people, or the world, or human society, or even 'the kingdom of heaven'. The Vineyard is God's Creation, his purpose, the workings of his love, his entire plan for humanity. This is truly what it meant when we say the Vineyard is the House of Israel.

And we are imperfect stewards. Sometimes rebellious. Sometimes obstinate. Yet often rewarded beyond what we deserve.

This weekend our second collection supports the work of Cafod. In supporting the work of this agency we do not only give money to rescue those in crisis, but we also support many many projects that enable people in the developing world to help themselves: to dig wells, to provide clean water, to sow crops, to build schools. In supporting Cafod we try to be good stewards of God's vineyard to enable others to be God's stewards too.

And the final reward is not material comfort, nor even the contentment from the well being of others, but the satisfaction of an invitation to the Vineyard of the Father, the Kingdom of God, the House of Israel.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) : Homily / Sermon

Which of the two did the father’s will? (Matthew 21:31)

 

This weekend we are back in the vineyard - though this time we are not with the workers, but with the owner’s family. One lad agrees to work but doesn't, while the other refused to work, yet does.

 

This is a parable which speaks eloquently of the kind of family life with which so many of us will be so familiar: the children who promise to do something, then who “forget”. And also the child who may protest and rebel, yet who does in fact do what is required. 

 

And again, Jesus surprises us a little by giving us an alternative perspective: two weeks ago, that we should forgive because we have been forgiven; last week we were told to be generous because generosity has been shown to us. And now we are presented with two people, both of whom have been disobedient and dishonest, and are asked which one is in the right. 

 

The basic message, is simple and clear: when words and deeds do not match, it is the deeds which matter. And more than that - but the one whose words are most harsh is the one who in in the right, and the one who professed his own goodness is truly in the wrong. 

 

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. 

 

So often we find it so hard to say what is truly in our hearts. We find it hard to say sorry, yet we will undertake acts to heal rifts with others. We find it hard to admit that we are in the wrong, yet we will quietly correct ourselves. Like the typical teenagers in the parable we claim that we know best, yet follow the advice we are given anyway.

 

Words are important, deeds more so. We might win an argument, yet convince no one. We can tell our children to be honest, but if they see us being dishonest, then they will learn the example, not the words. We can gather together each week and profess our faith, but if that does not make a difference to our lives, who will ever think it is something worth sharing.

 

By their fruits shall you know them, says Jesus. St Francis of Assisi said to his followers 'Preach the Gospel - use words if necessary'. Deeds speak louder than words.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) : Homily / Sermon

“Why be envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:16)

 

How to understand this story from the Gospels? 

On the face of it, it looks like something to do with employment rights, with politics and economics.

 

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On the one hand, we might read it and think that it about the rights of the employer, the vineyard owner, the boss. It is his business, his vineyard, his money. The workers work at his behest. He hires as he wills, and he can pay as much, or as little as he wants. The workers have no rights, and rely upon the good disposition of the man who is really in charge. It is a parable for the rich!

 

Yet on the other hand, we could read it very differently. The vineyard owner comes to an agreement with the men (they are all men, of course) as to what is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. One denarius a day is the living wage. And those who are unable to work for a full day, should not be deprived of a living income because of this. Even if someone is unable to work, so the parable seems to indicate, their basic human dignity means that they should not be deprived of what they need to live. It is a parable for the poor! 

 

Well whether these views of society are right or wrong - and we may all have our own opinions - this is a very bad way to read the Gospel. All too often people will take Scripture as a sort of peg to hang their own opinions upon, picking the odd verse out of context, reading a text in a way in which it was never meant to be read, expounding one passage yet ignoring many others. 

 

No - this Gospel isn’t about workers rights, or employers power, about red tape or the welfare state. It is much more fundamental than that. It is clearly, very clearly, about the boundless generosity of God, and the way in which we respond to it. 

 

“Why be envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:16)

 

It was Pope Francis, who in his wonderful letter “Gospel of Joy” wrote that too often Christians emerge from Church looking as if it was always Lent but never Easter. (It reminded me of the statement in CS Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Warderobe that in Narnia it was always Winter but never Christmas). 

It’s true: We find petition so much easier than thanksgiving, asking for something we need, rather than being grateful for something we already have. We are very aware of what we haven’t got, yet we take for granted, we don’t even notice, what we do have. We become, if we are not careful, the Church of the Half Empty Glass, always thirsting for what is missing - rather than savouring what is right before our eyes. 

 

And yet - and yet. When we see what we have, when we identify What God has given us,  When we appreciate it - then we are transformed not with envy … but with joy, for the person who is truly happy is not the one who has everything he wants, but who is grateful for everything he has

 

Last week, we were taught that the mercy which God shows to us, should be find its expression in our own readiness to forgive. And this week - a very similar point - the boundless generosity of God should be expressed in our gratitude, and because of that in our own generosity to others. 

 

For his generosity is indeed boundless. It is limitless. The sun and rain fall on the rich and poor alike. There are no favourites in his kingdom, no places of honour. No pride of place for the rich, or the cradle catholic, or the person of status. No back of the queue, for the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The blessings of his love and his forgiveness are unending. 

 

“Why be envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:16)

 

No: his generosity should not be met with our envy but with our gratitude, and because of our gratitude, then our generosity, our happiness, our welcome too. The gladness of our gratitude does not close our hearts with envy, but opens our arms with joy.