Immersed in Christ: Sunday 10/8/17
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Work for the Kingdom with Hope and Love
What do I think my religion is leading me to (besides heaven)? What am I aiming at when I do “religious”
things? Does my relationship with Jesus Christ give me a sense of mission, purpose and forward motion in my life?
Ideas to Consider
The Entrance Antiphon might lead us to think nothing is changing on earth: “O Lord, you have given everything its place in the world, and no one can make it otherwise.” But it is only making the point that God is the “Lord of all.” The Responsorial Psalm and the readings keep emphasizing that the People of God (first Israel, then the Church) are God’s beloved vineyard — “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” (Psalm 80) — and that God has dignified human beings with the responsibility managing it as his coworkers. Clearly, as stewards of the vineyard we are all meant to cultivate growth, foster development, produce results in and through the Church confided to us.
All of the prayers proper to today’s Mass: the Opening Prayer, Prayer Over the Gifts, and Prayer After Communion, ask God to “lead” us — “in the way of salvation,” “to seek beyond our reach,” and finally, simply “to you.” Our “obedient service” should bring us (and others with us) “to the fullness of redemption.” Christian life is a life in motion; a life of growth and change and development. To aim simply at avoiding evil, keeping out of sin, is to be unfaithful to our baptismal commitment and consecration as prophets, priests and stewards of the kingship of Christ. To concentrate only on our own spiritual life and development is also to be unfaithful. We are all stewards, all responsible for increasing the fruitfulness of the vineyard.
This Sunday gives us an inspiring vision of our stewardship.
Song of the Vineyard
Isaiah 5: 1-7 is a song of love for the People of God, whom Isaiah calls the Lord’s “vineyard”:
My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines.
We can feel the owner’s love for his vineyard, his expectations. But to his deep disappointment, “what it yielded was wild grapes.”
This lets us see the Church from a different angle. We are not just a group of people who know God’s revelation about himself and who have received his laws. We are a community God cherishes and cultivates, a community from whom he expects the fruits of life-giving activity in the world. He has filled his people in the Church with gifts — his word, his sacraments, the gift of his Spirit poured out in our hearts, the gift of grace, a sharing in his own divine life — so that we might fill the world with transforming truth and life-giving love. Through us, and through our efforts, he desires to establish the “reign of God” on earth — “an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” (Preface for the feast of Christ the King).
This is a goal to live and die for! It is also a goal by which to measure our fidelity. As long as there is poverty in the world; division along nationalistic and religious lines; truth obscured by ignorance, lies, “spin” and cover-ups; exploitation; pollution; violence and war, Christians have not yet yielded the fruit God expects of us. The efforts we are making in these areas are the criteria by which we must measure our fidelity to God and to our baptismal consecration as stewards of Christ‘s kingship.
Fruit for the World
In Matthew 21: 33-43 Jesus uses Isaiah’s “Vineyard Song,” but with two changes. First, he focuses on the tenant farmers – the stewards — to whom the vineyard was leased. Secondly, he tells how they killed the owner’s son in order to take, not just the produce, but the vineyard too for themselves.
Isaiah addressed the whole people, the vineyard itself. Jesus addresses those in charge of cultivating it; but that includes all of us who have been baptized to stewardship. And he challenges us to ask whether we think we are in the Church just to receive or to take an active part in the work and mission of the Church.
Contrary to what might be our first thought about this, we take part in the mission of the Church primarily through what we do outside of Church. Those charged with the responsibility and overwhelming privilege of cooperating with God in the renewal of society are primarily the laity. The world will be transformed by those who are “in the world” as part of its daily life: in business and social life, families and schools, in parenting and politics. It is in these areas that the fruit of the vineyard is most visible or most missed.
But the fruit will be borne: if not by us, by others. Jesus came to establish the reign of God on earth, and it will be established. His apparent defeat in death was his victory, and all we do must be based on deep, conscious union with the person of the risen, living Jesus: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the keystone of the structure.” Those who interact with him constantly, asking and allowing Jesus to act with them, in them and through them in everything they do, are “the people that will yield a rich harvest.”
The Way of Peace
Philippians 4: 6-9 tells us not to let our task overwhelm us: “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds.” We need to work as if everything depended on us, but pray as if everything depended on God: “Present your needs to God… in petitions full of gratitude. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Christians do not need to turn to violence, which is the knee-jerk reaction of those who are afraid or frustrated. In our efforts to transform society we fear nothing, and we know that the victory is ours — in God’s time and only in God’s way. Our first concern is that our own thoughts “should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect….” Our primary task as stewards is to “live according to what we have learned and accepted,” what we have heard Jesus say and seen him do. “Then will the God of peace be with us.”
Paul holds up before us God’s “plan for the fullness of time,” which is to “sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). This plan is “the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things...” (Ephesians 3:9). Here we have an echo of the Entrance Antiphon: “O Lord, you have given everything its place in the world, and no one can make it otherwise. For it is your creation, the heavens and the earth and the stars: you are the Lord of all.” God wins.
And he will do through us “far more than all we can ask or imagine.” God’s “goodness is beyond what our spirit can touch” and his “strength is more than the mind can bear.” That is why we ask him in the Opening Prayer to “lead us to seek beyond our reach and give us the courage to stand before your truth.” Our trust is in “our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is our “obedient service” to him that will “bring us to the fullness of redemption” (Prayer Over the Gifts). His way, however, is to do everything with love. That is why we pray after Communion: “May the love of Christ which we celebrate here touch our lives and lead us to you.”
Stewardship, responsibility, transforming society, establishing God’s reign: all these might suggest to us the use of power and force. But God’s reign is a reign of love. We are stewards of his love. Our stewardship is a ministry of love. That is why the foundation of all we do must be the prayer of St. Paul:
I pray therefore that …according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3: 8-21).
We do indeed have a goal and a mission to live and die for!
What should inspire me to get up in the morning? How can I begin each day in conscious union with Jesus?
Form the habit of praying all day long: “Lord, do your work with me, do your work in me, do your work through me.”