Twenty Sixth Sunday of the Year
Wherever we look, we see and experience inequity and injustice motivated by greed for land, money, and resources. We hear the UN Secretary General refer to our world as ‘boiling.’ We see mass migration and destruction. Today’s psalm raises the cry of a burdened people who throw themselves on God’s compassion and guidance. But are we listening? In Australia, the Philippines, and in the Amazon region, there is impoverishment, displacement. There is death for peasants, Indigenous people and environmental defenders. This is the ‘vineyard’ – our ‘Common Home’ –we are called to cherish, care for and nurture.
Our response as God’s people is to make a life-giving contribution and promote communion by acts of love, kindness, justice, and inclusion. For Paul, suggests that this is possible by having the mind of Jesus (Phil 2:5) and the love he modelled. Jesus embodied an attitude shaped by seeing things from below, from below, from a viewpoint that opposed ‘empire’ manifested as colonialism, exploitation, pleasure-seeking, profit, power and prestige. Seeing things from ‘from below’ offers a comprehensive understanding of the world that sets out another agenda which is about right action, rather than right belief, the real status of the poor and despised in God’s eyes.
When Jesus asks the question ‘which of the two sons did the father’s will?’ his listeners had to take a deep breath before responding. One son acted disrespectfully, and the other did not do as promised. Whatever it is, Jesus portrays a God reaching out to people on the margins where the outsider becomes an insider: “I tell you truly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the reign of God before you.” To avoid answering, those present basically said, “I don’t know.” Such a response can be a faithful one when we do not know what to do or if our small changes can be helpful in the light of global climate change, hunger and poverty around us, racism, sexism, homophobia, where systems privilege some people over others. In the gospel, the leaders knew what to do but they used this line to shut down discussion. It was an excuse to not make an effort to find out. It was an active attempt to end the conversation and prevent others from learning. “I don’t know” is an opportunity to learn, not a convenient reason to stay where you are and do nothing. It seems that this has also been the case in many circles as we approach the referendum on the Voice to Parliament? Some saying, if you don’t know, vote ‘no’ rather than finding out? “I don’t know,” an entirely faithful response when we do not know the right words, moves, actions, invites us to try, knowing we might make mistakes, to ask questions, to learn and grow and change, and to welcome not knowing as an invitation to dive more deeply into the world and its uncertainty, rather than to give up and remove ourselves from it.
Some commentaries on today’s Gospel reading suggest that it reflects the belief of societal outcasts versus the disbelief of the Jewish religious establishment. In fact, the Gospel is more encompassing. It is less a matter about belief but what we do. It is a matter of who shares “the father’s” commitment to the “family’s” (vineyard) well-being. It is not about polite words, bumper stickers and pious gestures but committed activities. We are responsible for our planet, for all living things, as were the two sons for their family property. This has implications for those who benefit from white privilege who seem to have little or limited experience and awareness of the reality of people of colour, people who are poor or unemployed, or victims of abuse and violence. They are often invisible. When they are visible, they can easily be ignored, bypassed or dismissed from our consciousness. Jesus wants us to make them visible. It means creating spaces to listen to the pain, the hopes, the vision, the suffering of people who usually do not matter to those in power. A quote I posted on Facebook recently says: ‘If you think you love freedom but you don’t care if it applies to everyone, what you actually love is privilege.
How does this affect our relationship with our First Peoples’ sisters and brothers? Many voices are calling upon us to take responsibility for all in our society. It means ‘white people’ calling out others who make racist jokes, have racist attitudes and implement harmful policies. This is ‘pro-life’ as we promote peace and work for the alleviation of poverty. Those who work for the well-being of the ‘vineyard’ are those who oppose the dehumanisation or inhumane treatment of people, stand with vulnerable people in our society or in places like the Philippines and Latin America who, because of their stand, face threats, violence and even death. The leaders Jesus addressed in the gospel refused to take sides as are so many religious today who rm. The religious elite are still outside the fence. Silence kills! Inaction kills! It is not only talking about, but doing, the will of God. According to Paul, and the gospels, Jesus’ constant ‘yes’ needed to have flesh on it. We might ask today who is saying ‘yes’ to God, ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to the vulnerable, ‘yes’ to the rights of women, ‘yes’ to the queer community, ‘yes’ to the stranger and marginalised among us, ‘yes’ to the person living with mental illness, and who is saying ‘no’? Last week, we heard that the first will be last and the last first. The privileged do not want this to be the case. They want things to remain the same without considering people who struggle to survive without a living wage, proper health, or comprehensive education. We can choose the status quo or opt for the radical change embodied in the crucified one. To do this we must identify with the last, the least, the lowest of the low and make their concerns and dreams our own. Jesus’ critique does not just apply to individuals but to our faith community when it observes ‘second son’ culture by displaying a judgemental, closed, and insular community unlike the ‘field hospital’ (according to Pope Francis) which heals the wounded, strengthens the weak, and lifts up the lowly. Pope Francis points us to people at the periphery of the church. The Spirit shows us who these might be if we listen. One group at the edges of the church are LGBTQ+ people. Whoever they are, each is precious in God’s loving care and deserve respect and dignity. How we live, relate, welcome outsiders, and include them is fundamentally counter-cultural. It matters little to say one believes in God, is a good Christian, or good Jew, or good Muslim, or a good person. What matters is what we do. There are enough self-styled good Christians who promote homophobia and, in some places, as in the USA and Africa, has resulted in violence, even death. There are enough self-styled good Christians who promote racism and inequality. This is the image of the second son. We also see those who are messed up and a nuisance at time but show generosity and compassion to others. We see who model’s God’s love whereas the promotion of hate can never be God’s will. ‘I would rather attend church with messed up people who love God, than religious people who dislike messed up people’ (Author unknown).
What Jesus asks of us does not come easily and can be costly. Love is a choice. It calls for determination. It might mean standing alone at times. Like water that flows into any crack it finds, God’s reign appears in surprising places, and flows into the lives of those that we might prefer to shut out. May we be challenged and inspired by the radical, offensive inclusivity of God’s reign. God’s life – God’s living water – can flow into any person’s life that has even the smallest crack open to it. It is available to all, even those who are least like to find a place to belong. So, today’s gospel again touches on the essential question of political, economic and religious systems: who is in and who is out. It was because of Christ’s compassion and his solidarity with humanity that he embraced everything that was human to show what we can become. In this way we participate in God’s creative energy in whose image each one of us has been created and given life. So, let us model God’s care and concern for all peoples, and that lives on the earth. ‘Feel this command within your own skin. The vineyard is the place of communion, where mercy, healing, justice and equality consume the destructive, choking weeds of relational sin’. (Marge Kloose, Catholic Women Preach, 2020).
It is time to knock down the walls of social exclusion.