Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 8, 2017)
We have often heard about the lethal fault in spiritual life; self- sufficiency. The pride that resides in each of us moves us from a healthy sense of independence toward the unhealthy extreme sense of self- sufficiency. When we think that we are sufficient unto ourselves, we do not need God. God becomes irrelevant. The traditional sources of self-sufficiency are wealth and intelligence. Very comfortable wealth tends to put us in a spiritual place where we tend not to pray for the things of this world; we just buy them. Being very intelligent or thinking we are, we tend to behave as though we know with the knowledge of God.
Gratitude tends to put us in right relationship with god: dependent, reverence toward one deserving of reverence. If we are stuck on ourselves, either through wealth or learning, we do not need to thank God. With hard work and further learning, who needs him?
“Eucharist” means thanksgiving. Gratitude to God is not held to be necessary each Sunday. We dispense ourselves.
Upon reflection, I would like to add a third source of self-sufficiency that seems to characterize many living in our age. It qualifies because it has the same basic ingredient as wealth and intelligence in diminishing our gratitude to god. The third source is: a sense of entitlement. It is spawned in and by our society. How often do we see indignant, fiery eyed faces, vein-bulging necks, on television, angry in being “deprived” of having something they “deserve” – something that others have worked for long and hard, but they patently deserve to be given at no cost to them.
In today’s Gospel, we hear about, not observe – so the passion is less strident - a group of tenant farmers. In the parable, God is the owner of the vineyard. The vineyard is Israel itself. The vineyard workers are those who plot to become the owners of the vineyard. The owner, we are told, did the basic work; he planted the vineyard, put a protective hedge around it, installed a wine press for producing wine, and built a tower for spotting would-be thieves.
The parable is clear: the tenants were the Jewish leaders. They did not see themselves as interdependent partners with the landowner, God. In their working in the vineyard, the people of Israel. Rather, they saw themselves as authorities over the people of Israel. They took on a sense of entitlement.
Jesus refers to them as the murderers of the prophets who would kill even the son of the landowner, Jesus himself in order to maintain the authority that they enjoyed. The image changes in the next parable from the image of a vineyard to the image of the building trade. As Jesus was rejected as a mason would reject a stone in building a structure. He was, in the new image, the building’s corner stone. What the Jewish leaders rejected will be selected as the cornerstone of a new “structure.” The old rejected him; he will be key to the new.
The temptation of supervisors who give direction to the project remains the same: acting like owners of the enterprise of God’s plan. Jesus calls us to faith. He calls us to love. Why would any “supervisor” propound any devotional practices that they guarantee would assure entitlement to eternal life?
Jesus asks us to put our trust, our faith, in him. We love the father, his son, the Holy Spirit in a prayerful, grateful way – best expressed in Eucharist – and carry this love of “all of the above” to our neighbor.
We know that it is by grace, gift without semblance of entitlement, that we stand humbly before our God.