27th 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 is giving the world a similarly urgent message today. Whereas Genesis spoke of Abel's blood crying out to God from the earth, Francis tells us that sister Earth herself ‘now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her’ by plundering and ‘seeing ourselves as her lords and masters.
’ Pope Francis says we need an integral approach to ecology that hears ‘both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.’ We have our modern Isaiahs whose powerful prophetic voices try to attune us to God’s ways and cares. How frequently Pope Francis, along with other religious leaders, have spoken out against violence in the world, the arms trade, on behalf of the poor, for the care of creation and human trafficking.
This fourth Sunday in September comes on the heels of Season of Creation which closes with the today’s feast of St Francis of Assisi. The reading Isaiah is a love song sung for his friend and his vineyard. But any romance is soon dashed as the prophet’s ‘love-song’ swiftly turns sour; ‘He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress.’ (Isaiah 5:7). It continues in the gospel as Jesus warns his critics of the urgent need to collaborate with what God was offering through him. A similar urgency comes in Pope Francis’ call to us. He says, that as Genesis spoke of Abel's blood crying out to God from the earth, sister Earth ‘now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her’ by plundering and ‘seeing ourselves as her lords and masters.’ Hence, the need for an integral approach to ecology that hears and responds to ‘both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.’ Nevertheless, 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’ that God has given us but also threatens our sisters and brothers who have been placed in our care. God looked for justice and love but heard cries of distress and found only violence and bloodshed. 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 can only flourish where there is peace but not when the land is not valued; when we are blinded by short-term greed that takes precedence over reverence and appreciation of the beauty and culture. This was evident in the blowing up of the 46,000 year-old Juukan Gorge with its caves in the Pilbara for mining. Here again, God’s vineyard, subject to violence and greed as traditional owners of the land were subjected to the violence of disrespect, culture, and failure to listen. This situation confronts us all. 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 globalization of indifference. It prompts the question; What type of tenant am I? Do I live to serve and to take care of others, or I use them for my own profit and interest? Do I feel responsible and am I conscious of my accountability for all I have received?
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 never posed any threat to us and harmed 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 as well as the threat of thermonuclear war. We are offered 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 serious questions. Does our presence contribute 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. We cannot offer God a sterile and mediocre Christianity. 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 condemn threats to 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 is good news. It reveals us to 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.
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. It is real people that we are called to serve – not some other in the beyond. Where do we find Jesus and serve him? The setting of today’s gospel is a workplace, a vineyard, and we are called to see signs of God's reign. Though work takes up much of our time, we do not often see the workplace, and our home life, or the person who shares our bed as places of encounter with God. They seem to be the least likely places we would expect to encounter God, but Jesus is saying that we must open our eyes and recognise that it is in these places that we see God's dynamic presence.
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. Let’s not apply the parables to other people. They apply to us. So we're called to try to follow that way of love. If we do, then clearly what will happen to us is what Paul says in our second lesson today, ‘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 his audience's suggestion that the owner should annihilate the wicked. 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 that has been entrusted to us. We can change the tune of Isaiah's sad ballad and sing as we go because ‘our struggles and concern for this planet [need] never take away the joy of our hope’ (Pope Francis)