Saturday, October 7, 2017
Earlier this week I had a meeting (really an interview) with a group of men who are on the Board of Trustees of a pro-life group; and they were exploring whether I would be a good fit for the board. We started the lunch meeting in prayer and I was probably not even listening to the words being said, because I was just so filled with joy that were here at a public restaurant, praying together for God’s presence and wisdom during our discussion. After the lunch, I admittedly had mixed emotions: excited to have such an authentic, sincere, energetic, and faith-filled encounter, AND also a bit embarrassed and even discouraged at my own self-awareness of my inability or hesitation to be so free and open in my faith - which is I know there – just that I too often am not as public about it as I can and should be. Well, certainly today's readings challenge me – and I hope each of us - to confront our own self-righteousness or hardheartedness or embarrassment or fear or pride or doubt or insecurity that keeps us from fully surrendering to and trusting in God's great love for us and then sharing that with others. Jesus does not mince words as he continues in today's gospel to confront the priest and elders with their own rejection of God and of him. The parable we read today is actually part of a set of three parables directed at this group of religious leaders. And they are recorded in Matthew’s Gospel as being told during “holy week” - the week leading up to Jesus’ passion and death on the cross. Jesus uses these three parables to confront their rejection of God and the fate that awaits them. Last week we heard about the parable of the two sons who showed a lack of obedience to their father; this week we read of the vineyard owner and the tenants who revolt against him; and then next week, we hear a parable of a wedding feast in which the guests reject that invitation to the party. Specific to today's parable, Jesus is direct and unambiguous to the priests and elders to whom the parable was addressed – and really each of us. The priests and the elders knew well today's First Reading and Responsorial Psalm from their studies of the prophets and psalms; and so they understood God's great gift of life and prosperity for them, they also understood that they – the Israelite people, the chosen one’s – are called into a covenant relationship, and that there is then a great responsibility with being in this relationship and a fruitfulness that will come forth from being in this relationship. And they must have also clearly understood Jesus' point that they are the tenants who have rejected and killed the landowner’s son – they are the ones who have rejected God the Father and his Son, Jesus, and with poetic foreshadowing: they are the ones who will put Jesus to death in a few short days. As we hear these difficult words of Jesus and reflect on him this coming week, I invite you and really challenge you to pray over whatever it is that's holding you back from fully embracing God’s love. Whatever it may be – our own self-righteousness or hardness of heart or embarrassment or fear or pride or doubt or insecurity - whatever it maybe that's keeping you from going further in your relationship with God – pray over it. We tend to want to group the priests and elders of Jesus’ time in a single, non-descript unit, but they - like us - had their own issues and challenges and reasons for acting as they did. Pray for whatever it is that keeping you from going further in your faith. You may be saying to yourself: I am here at Mass (and I would say that is a good thing), but I am also challenging you to go even further. What is keeping you, for example, from praying in public, praying with your spouse or family (and just not grace before meals), talking about Jesus in the workplace or other public space - which we all know is taboo and certainly politically incorrect, what is keeping you from inviting a friend or a coworker or a neighbor to join us here at Mass? And believe me these are the same questions I am asking myself! And again you may be thinking I'm fine - I'm here at Mass and I have even have my own private prayers and my own devotions, so all is good. Yes that is good but I would say don't stop there. We won’t build a house just let it collapse in disrepair; we won’t invest money without expecting a positive return; and as echoed in today's readings, we won't build a vineyard without expecting good fruit to come from the vines. And we know how well a project or job or relationship goes if we are half-hearted, do just the minimum, and don’t have our heart and mind fully present – it will eventually fail. The same is true in a relationship with God. Remember, we are called to be in this love relationship, that is what we are made to do, that is what we do best. And as today's readings remind us: this relationship is not to be hidden or forgotten, and it is not to be barren, or to grow wild, or even to be hostile. Rather there is a very fruitful, public and outward component to our relationship with God – this relationship then becomes a source of great peace for us and others. Which leads me to my final point. Saint Paul's letter in today's second reading was written as Paul is sitting in prison. And he gives two wonderful instructions at the conclusion of his letter that are still relevant and timely for us today. First, he tells us to have no anxiety at all – to not worry - but to pray and ask God for whatever it is that you need. I am reminded of the words of one of our wonderful parishioners who would add: that we need to be very specific in our prayer. And with this instruction to pray, St. Paul reminds us of this promise: if we do this, if we make a requests known to God, then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. St. Paul’s second instruction is: for us to keep our minds focused -focused on what is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and gracious and excellent and on all things that are worthy of praise. In other words: don't be distracted by all of the chaos and noise that can quickly fill our minds and hearts. And again if you do this, there is the assurance that the God of peace will be with you. We will have God’s peace in our minds and our hearts. So, this week, I ask for you to pray for me, as I will be praying for you, so that we may be in constant petition to God asking for his help to enter deeper into and stay in relationship with him. I pray, and ask you to join me in praying, that we may also remain focused on this relationship not be distracted. I pray, and ask for your prayers, that we can surrender our self-will, self-righteousness, hardheartedness, embarrassment, fear, pride, doubt, and insecurity, so that I may know God’s peace – today, tomorrow and for eternity.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:28 AM