Twenty Seventh Sunday of the Year
Jesus was warning his critics that the time was short for them to come around to collaborate with what God was offering through him. Pope Francis has issued similar warnings. He says we need ears that hear ‘both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.’
We have just concluded ‘The Season of Creation’ on the feast of St Francis of Assisi (October 4). Daniel O’Leary, in An Astonishing Secret: The Love Story of Creation and the Wonder of you, writes beautifully of the love Pope Francis has for Creation and all within it as well as the distress it finds itself. This couples with Isaiah’s ‘love-song’ for a friend and his vineyard, which quickly turns sour when ‘He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress.’ (Isaiah 5:7). Pope Francis has railed against injustice and distress in Creation and people. He has used the image of Abel's blood crying out to God from the earth, and sister Earth and ‘now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her’ by plundering and ‘seeing ourselves as her lords and masters.’ In France recently, he condemned the treatment of migrants as if they are ‘hot potatoes’ or ‘ping pongs’ where they could be returned or shuffled from place to place. He describes them as ‘fanaticism of indifference.’ He called on them, including ourselves, to choose between apathy or fraternity; and that we must be known for our compassion, hospitality and mercy. This connects with the need for an approach where we hear and respond to ‘both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.’ Isaiah insists that God still hears the cry of the disenfranchised - both the poor and the Earth. The ecological crisis not only threatens this ‘vineyard’ we live in but also threatens the people who have been placed in our care. Misuse of the Earth’s resources that benefit the few, and the spilt blood of our sisters and brothers who die because of violence and wars involves us all. God entrusts to us the whole of creation as well as all our brothers and sisters. We are called to serve and be responsible for them. We cannot avert our eyes or avoid our responsibility with the excuse that our focus is on our particular situations and worries. Pope Francis calls this avoidance of responsibility the ‘globalisation of indifference’.
Today’s parable reflects a long-suffering God whose love for us is not always expressed towards others due to greed and indifference. We are asked to tend it, care for it. It implies a long-term commitment to the land - as well as future generations. It cannot flourish where there is no peace; when the land is not valued; when short-term greed blinds us and takes precedence over reverence and appreciation of beauty and culture. We saw this in May 2020 when the 46,000 year-old Juukan Gorge caves – a sacred site – was blown up for mining. Here again, God’s vineyard is subject to violence and greed as traditional owners were subjected to the violence of disrespect, culture, and failure to listen
We live in a system that promotes entitlement and greed which leads to gross inequality. This greed prompts people to set us walls against people who knock at our gates for security, who are homeless, who are poor, who are facing violence of all kinds. We seem increasingly addicted to violence whether in our communities, streets, homes, nation and internationally. Domestic violence, violence against people who are different to us, violence against people in countries that have not threatened us. God’s word to us is give up violence, refuse to wage war or support the language that does not make for peace.
Science has given many people the possibility of a life of comfort, free from hunger, cold and infectious disease, but has also given us the power to make this ‘vineyard’ uninhabitable through pollution and overpopulation not to mention the threat of nuclear war. We have a choice: life or death to ourselves and our children. Many organisations are working to abolish the institution of war and military spending. Unfortunately, many of the so-called ‘tenants’ make their living from war as we spend nearly 2 trillion dollars a year on armaments. Even without war, this spending is a violence – theft - against the poor who live with inequalities in food security, education, healthcare and a living wage.
The gospel speaks directly to us. We need to ask ourselves if our presence contributes to justice for the excluded, solidarity, compassion towards the suffering, raising our voices and acting in defence of people who are being oppressed? Otherwise, our lives and our Christianity become sterile. What kind of tenants are we when we continue to refuse to make a space for people who seek asylum from persecution in their homelands? What kind of tenants are we when we allow Indigenous Australians to continue to live in third world conditions and fail to help protect their culture? What kind of tenants are we when we continue to destroy the earth, the environment and our sisters and brothers in wars that we engage in?
The gospel reveals what is possible. The story need not have a tragic end. The fruits expected of us are still justice, right relationship with people and all creation if there is to be peace in our world. All peoples of all places in every period of history are the intended recipients of God’s love revealed in Jesus.
The Jesus story turns things upside down - ‘the very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the cornerstone.’ As Jesus was rejected, he along with the people rejected by system, become the cornerstone/foundation of a totally new structure. We make him the cornerstone by prioritising the poor, the rejected and the vulnerable. Matthew 25 tells us that Jesus is to be found waiting to be served, among the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the outcast, the stranger, the sick and the person in prison or out of prison. This is where the rubber hits the road. This change of perspective has the potential to help us form new ways of shaping human communities – communities rooted in equity, justice, inclusion, love, compassion, and safety, especially for those who are marginalised and rejected. And every time a community chooses to centre the voices of those who have been expelled, they demonstrate a new way. Matthew’s gospel is not abandoning the Jewish people but sought to incorporate Gentiles into this ‘vineyard.’ There is no escaping from struggles of the world, but a call be the fruitful people of God. For this vineyard (with its walls, hedges, fences and watchtower) to be fruitful, it must move beyond its boundaries to develop a ‘culture of encounter’. People are rejected for all kinds of reasons: their lack of education; not having the privileged skin colour; not having the privileged anatomy and physiology; not belonging to a certain income bracket; not being a local; not having the correct gender identity; and, not fitting into heterosexist society because of the person one loves. This matters to God. Those who have been rejected in unjust social structures are the cornerstones of the human community the Jesus story announces. Rejection qualifies one in in the shaping of a human community that rejects the fear and welcomes those considered different or other. Those who have been rejected in unjust social structures are the cornerstones of the human community the Jesus story announces.
There is no limit to what God is prepared to do to show love for the vineyard, the people, the world and call us to conversion. We have been endowed with every opportunity for becoming who we are intended to be - individual and collective images of God who reflect God’s heart in the world. The parable applies to us – not just other people. We are called to try to follow that way of love and as Paul says, ‘Put into practice what you have learned and then the God of peace will be with you and fill you with God's peace.’
When Jesus told the parable of the vineyard owner and the tenants, he offered a life-giving alternative to the suggestion that the wicked should be annihilated. In Laudato sí', Francis calls us to embrace the exciting drama of our history, come together in union with all living things and tend to this home with all that has been entrusted to us. We can change the tune of Isaiah's sad ballad and sing because ‘our struggles and concern for this planet [need] never take away the joy of our hope’ (Pope Francis).