26th Sunday of the Year
Wherever we look, we see and experience inequity and injustice motivated by greed for land, money, and resources. It happens in Australia and in the Philippines, and in the Amazon region, it often leads to impoverishment, displacement and death for peasants and Indigenous people. We also face a scary future with between 30-50% of all species heading for extinction by the middle of this century and 99% currently threatened species are at risk from human activities.
This is the ‘vineyard’ – our ‘Common Home’ - that we are called to cherish, care for and nurture. Each action of justice and love contributes to life. Our response as people of God is to contribute to life by acts of love and justice, to be inclusive which leads to communion. Paul says that we should have the same mind as Jesus (Phil 2:5) and thus have the same love as Jesus who modelled what our response to God’s love and compassion for us should be where the welfare of others is put ahead of our own. We are called to a profound change of mind and attitude as too what is important in life. We are called to take on the attitude Jesus embodied. Jesus’ vision was shaped from seeing things from below, from the viewpoint of one who opposed ‘empire’ which still expresses itself in terms of colonialism, exploitation, pleasure-seeking, profit, power and prestige. Seeing things from ‘from below’ offered a comprehensive understanding of the world which set out what the agenda should be – the real status of the poor and despised in God’s eyes. It is more about right action rather than right belief.
A number of 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. Our default state calls us to model God’s care and concern for the peoples, flora and fauna of the Earth and its wellbeing. 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 the one who laboured for the good of the whole family. It is not about polite words, bumper stickers and pious gestures that prove empty. It needs to be connected to 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 tend 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.
How does this affect our relationship with our sisters and brothers who are First Peoples? Many voices are calling upon us to take responsibility for our society. It means ‘white people’ calling out white people about racist jokes, attitudes and policies. This is as much ‘pro-life’ as being open to life in all its forms, working for the alleviation of poverty and promoting peace. 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 priests Jesus addressed in the gospel refused to take sides. The religious elite are still outside the fence. Silence kills. Inaction kills. It is not only talking about, but doing, the will of God. It is about ‘walking the talk’. According to Paul, as in the gospels, Jesus’ constant ‘yes’ needed to have flesh on it. A bishop in Sydney has taken sides and is at the end of a petition that is calling for his removal from the diocese and is considered a threat to ‘faith’ of the people. He taken sides to build relationships with people in calling for justice, respect and compassion towards all people who seem, in the minds of some, sit on the wrong side of the fence. Who is saying ‘yes’ to God. ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to the vulnerable, and who is saying ‘no’? Last week, we heard that the first will be last and the last first. This is not how the rich and powerful want things to be. They want things to stay the same without considering people who find it difficult to survive without a living wage, proper health, comprehensive education, or those who are disposed by violent regimes or corporations. 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.
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. So, today’s gospel again touches on the essential question of political, economic and religious systems: who is in and who is out. Jesus makes it clear that God’s love –that living water – is available to all even those who are least likely to find a places to belong. Going back to Paul, it was Christ’s compassion and his solidarity with humanity where he took on everything that was human in order to show us what we are invited to become. In this way we participate in God’s creative energy in whose image each one of us has been created and given life. ‘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, https://www.catholicwomenpreach.org/preaching/09272020)