Christ the King Catholic Church
The section of today's Gospel is one that deals with Jesus' problems with the religious leaders of his day. They continually question and reject his authority and in rejecting that authority, reject the One who sent him.
Jesus tells a parable that they understand is directed toward them. A man plants a vineyard, cares for the vineyard, builds a fence around it, builds a winepress to be able to collect the juice from the grapes and builds a watchtower to protect the vineyard and then goes on a journey, entrusting the care of his vineyard to others.
The vineyard yields a rich harvest and when the owner of the vineyard sends people to collect his share of the produce, the folks to whom he had leased the vineyard kill the messengers. The owner then sends his own son, certain that they will respect him, but they kill the son as well. The owner then says that those people will come to a wicked end and the care of the vineyard will be entrusted to others.
On one level the parable is easy to understand. The vineyard, as we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, is Israel- God's Chosen People. The owner of the vineyard is God. The people to whom care of the vineyard are the religious leaders of Israel. The messengers that the owner sends are the prophets who, more often than not, were rejected and mistreated by the religious leaders. The son, of course, is Jesus who is taken out of the vineyard and killed. The 'bad end' to which the tenants come is the loss of the vineyard as it is given to others. The 'others' to whom the vineyard is entrusted are the Gentles, the non-Jews.
In a brief parable, Jesus outlines the history of the Chosen People.
The parable is directed towards the religious leaders who rejected Jesus, the Son, who was sent by the Father. The religious leaders knew the parable was directed at them and they became all the more determined to find a way to silence Jesus.
But we don't get off the hook that easy. The parable has something to say to us as well. Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God. He is the cornerstone. The
invitation to be part of the Kingdom was first extended to the Chosen People in the covenant that God made with them on Mount Sinai, but, then, to all ofus in the new and eternal covenant that God has made with all of us in Jesus. How important it is that we never forget the words of the Spanish philosopher and poet, George Santayana, who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." This is true of all history, including salvation history.
Like the people in the parable, we are stewards of all the gifts that God has given us. Stewards - not owners. And as stewards God has a right to expect something from us. He has a right to expect that the gifts he has given us will bear good fruit for the Kingdom.
The people in today's parable, suffered from what is called 'tenant's syndrome'. And I think the 'tenant's syndrome' is as common today as it when Jesus first told the parable. The syndrome can take us in two different directions.
Tenant's syndrome can express itself in tenants thinking that they own what has been leased to them. Kind of a 'squatters right' mentality. This is the direction it took among the religious leaders of Jesus' day and a direction it can easily take us in our own day. The tenant's syndrome makes us believe that what has been loaned to us actually belongs to us. And the most basic and fundament gift that has been given to us is the gift of life. We are not the source of our life and we are not the final arbitrator of our life. No one of us can will ourselves into existence and no one of us a can will one more hour of life than that which has been allotted to us by God.
Life, itself, belongs to God. We are given the gift of life here on earth for a time. During the time we spend on earth, we are stewards of the gift of the life that has been entrusted to us. But how easily we can forget that and think that we are 'owners' of the gift.
This weekend, the first weekend of October, we mark Respect Life Sunday. The church reminds us of the often times forgotten fact that we do not own our own lives or the lives of others. Life comes from God and life belongs to God. We are stewards of life, not owners. And as stewards we are called to use the gift well, respect the gift, cultivate the gift and make sure that the gift bears good fruit.
The saints are wonderful examples of this good stewardship of life and during October we celebrate a 'who's who' of saints. Today is the feast of Saint Theodora Guerin, our Hoosier Saint. This past Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of Saint Therese, the Little Flower. Tomorrow is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, and, then, its Saint Denis and Saints Simon and Jude. This cloud of witnesses remind us that we, like them, are called to be good stewards of the gift of our own lives. In another parable, Jesus tells of good stewards who, at journey's end, hear the welcome words, "Well done, good and faithful servants. Come and share in your Master's joy." The saints, those canonized and those who have sat in the very pews we occupy here at Christ the King today, are reminders to us of what it means to be good stewards of the gift of life. They are the stewards 'par excellence.'
Tenant's syndrome could mislead us into believing that life belongs to us and to us alone and that we can do whatever we want with our life. That was the mistaken judgement of the tenants in today's parable and we see how that played out for them!
Connecting the Gospel to our Respect Life Sunday, we also see how tenant's syndrome can affect our relationship with others. We can mistakenly believe that we are 'owners' of our own lives and 'owners' of the lives of others. The life of a child in a mother's womb, doesn't belong to the mother in the sense that she can do whatever she wants with that life as many would have us believe today. That life, as all life, belongs to God. And whether it be the child in her mother's womb or the elderly person in a nursing home, we are called to be good stewards not only of our own lives, but the lives of others as well.
Whenever we forget this and think that we 'own' others or that others exist for our sake and not theirs, we can and we have done terrible things. History is laden with these terrible things: the institution of slavery and discrimination, the holocaust, infanticide, euthanasia, human trafficking, capital punishment, bullying in the high school cafeteria and the exploitation that is pornography.
The religious leaders of Jesus' day forgot that they were mere stewards of God's people and the promises that God had made in his covenant. And when the true owner of the vineyard sent his Son, they rejected him. And the gifts, the wonderful gifts, that God had intended for them were lost and given to others.
We are among those 'others'. May we never forget that everything, absolutely everything, that we enjoy is a gift from God. All that we have, and all that we enjoy belongs to God. We are stewards of God's gifts, including the gift of our own life and the life of others. As stewards we are called to care for these gifts and nurture these gifts. We are called to cultivate and share these gifts and, ultimately, each of us, at a time known only to God, will be called to give an account of how well, or how poorly, we have used the gift of life. We will be called to give an account of how well, or how poorly, we have respected the lives of others.
May we live this coming week as good stewards, generous stewards, grateful stewards of the gifts that God has given us, never forgetting from where the gifts come and to whom they belong. And chief among the gifts we have been given is the very gift of life itself.