In today’s parable as told by our Lord, we have a King who is blessed with a very generous heart. A social heart, if you will. He wishes to hold a wedding feast for his son, and when the time and place are set, he wants the hall filled to capacity. He doesn’t care what the fire laws say. He wants lots of people to attend, to celebrate the wedding of his son. He’s the King; he can do whatever he wants.
He has a long list of invitees. The servants are sent out to invite the guests who are called to attend, but one by one the guests disappear back into the busyness of their lives. By doing so, they reject the King. They reject his power, his influence, his generosity and kindness, and his friendship. They have to go home and walk the dog at the very same time of the wedding feast. Whatever lame excuse they could come up with, they used it in order to avoid the blessings and the love of their King. In the same way that many reject the King of the Universe today. There’s no time for him, or his wedding feast. We give thanks that you make time.
In his being rejected by his subjects, the King goes above and beyond the role of a King and sends out servants to personally invite those he has chosen to the feast, giving them a second chance, as God has given us many second chances. The King gives his subjects the chance to convert, to change their minds, to appear at the great wedding banquet of food and drink. He didn’t get the answer he was looking for. Instead of accepting the invitation to a joyful celebration, those being invited took the opposite approach and killed the servants. They chose to commit murder rather than “eat, drink, and be merry.”
The King’s reaction is predictable. He becomes enraged that they killed the Prophets, I mean the servants he sent out with invitations. The reaction to their death was not only anger, but also grief. The King’s further reaction to the killing of his servants is to open the wedding feast to anyone out in the streets, meaning the rest of the world. “Invite everyone. Invite the Gentiles who worship false gods, the tax collectors and prostitutes who have no gods but money and their bodies. Invite them. Who knows, maybe they’ll convert and worship the one true God.”
Out the door the servants merrily go, inviting this person and that person, this family and that family. “Am I hearing you right,” they say? “An invitation to the wedding feast of the King’s Son? Is the King losing his mind? What’s the catch? This is too good to be true. This is like receiving Red Sox playoff tickets at no cost.” The inviters say back, “Just show up and enjoy the game, and we’ll cover the cost of all your Fenway Franks.”
With God, my friends, there is never a catch. “I’ll do this for you if you do this for me.” There’s no washing each other’s hands, no political motives, nothing written in fine print, no unspoken expectations. God invites us into his banquet with no strings attached, except the string of loving him, which many find so hard to do. Loving God should be the most natural thing we ever do in this world.
Honestly, we’re the people on the street invited to work in the Lord’s vineyard. We entered about 3:00 in the afternoon, the same time the Crucified One succumbed to his injuries on the Cross so that we may have life. We are the Johnnies-come-lately of salvation, as Gentiles.
So, we arrive at the wedding feast of the King by way of invitation through the Cross, and through the King’s servants, the Apostles. Just make sure you wear a wedding garment. Look what happened to the guy who didn’t wear one. The King asked him, “Where’s your wedding garment?” “It’s still at the cleaners. I thought dungarees were good enough. My dog ate it.” All sorts of dumb excuses. For forgetting the wedding garment, he’s bound hand and foot, tossed into the outer darkness, where he will wail and grind his teeth forever. All for forgetting to wear a wedding garment. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime.
You must be asking, “What’s the wedding garment? What does it really represent in the parable?” It can represent many things as connected to our faith, depending on where our spiritual lives happen to be. In our faith, I see it as representing the gifts of the sacramental life of the Church.
The garment of Baptism, which for most of us our parents in their responsibility took care of for us. Now we are to live out that Baptism for the remaining years of our lives. And don’t forget to wear the garment of Reconciliation. Sometimes the garment gets dirty and soiled. Confession makes it white again before the King.
The wedding garment is also the Eucharist. To receive the Lord for real is to wear him. Like those 9th Division soldiers wore their infantry uniforms, with a certain color patch, signifying who they belonged to. Wear the garment of Confirmation to the feast. The garment that pledges total devotion to the King of Kings, and not to a passing world. Confirmation is a garment of full devotion to Christ.
Wear the garment of Matrimony, for those are called. Catholics are to wear this garment to the Church, and not to a civil ceremony where God’s presence is minimal at best, if at all. Make sure you wear the garment of the beautiful Sacrament of Anointing, where we seek God’s healing right now, as well as the end of our lives. So many Catholics forget this garment today, especially at the end.
And lastly, put on the garment of Holy Orders for those to whom God is whispering, “Feed my sheep.”
The guy who entered the King’s banquet without a wedding garment was void of the sacramental life of the Church. He had no active faith. No faith leads to the outer darkness.
But we have faith. Which is why we come here dressed in sacramental garments, as we celebrate the wedding of the King’s Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
No one likes an ingrate. And we like even less a person who steals someone else’s idea and pretends like it’s their own. And that’s the parable of the vineyard as told by our Lord. This is why we have copyright laws; so that one person doesn’t steal from another person’s brain, without giving credit to the original owner.
An individual buys a vineyard to plant and grow some good foods. Grapes to make delicious wine. Corn to feed the masses, and probably the hogs too. Blueberries for your cereal. Because of the size of the vineyard, the owner hires workers to care for his big patch of land. Groom it, cultivate it, reap and sow on it. They’re given the best of machinery to bring forth the best crop for the owner. The owner entrusts them to do so. They perform their labor, and they do it well. They love what they do. They love the results of all this tasty food going out to market to make a profit. Everything is going along just swimmingly, as the British would say. But somewhere along the way, they lost sight of the fact that they work for someone else. Someone else owns the vineyard. Someone who knew precisely when the crops would be ready for market. An owner full of wisdom regarding the collection of his investment.
The laborers hadn’t seen the owner since the time their hiring. Since the time of their birth on the job. Because of the owner’s apparent absence, they falsely come to think they were now the owners. Maybe this is why it would give many people immense joy if Jesus visibly showed himself to the entire world; just once a week would do. To remind us that we are not in charge. That we don’t own the vineyard, but rather the vineyard has been entrusted to us to produce a good crop over the short decades of our lives. And his weekly appearance would do away with the prevailing mindset today that says we own the world., instead of the One who called it into existence.
We do live in a time where this is the predominant attitude of the laborers in the vineyard. We live in a time of rejecting the Owner. When the owner sends servants of his to the vineyard of the world, there is much persecution of them. And sometimes they even get killed. If not, they’re made to feel like they are the odd ducks, and not the laborers who tried to steal something that doesn’t belong to them. Such is the danger when people with power live like God didn’t create the world. That the Big Bang just banged on its own power, that God is absent from his creation, and that what we see and produce is of our own doing, and all the credit belongs to us. This approach is rampant in our culture, and it’s a big reason – if not the biggest – for why we have the cultural mess we do. It’s our call to transform this attitude.
So, what do we do about the whole vineyard mess? What do we do about the humble, God-fearing Israelites coming out of Egypt, and growing into wild grapes over the centuries, as Isaiah says today, when they were called by God to be sweet-tasting grapes. They were called from Egypt to stand in for God, as we are today. Instead, they stole the vineyard from God, set up their own false gods of stone and plaster, so when the owner came back one more time and saw their wretchedness, he threw them out of Jerusalem and into a 70-year retreat within the walls of Babylon. As us today, they reaped what they sowed.
The first humble admission any Christian will make about our lives is that the vineyard out there is not ours. It never was; it never will be, no matter how much pretending may be going on. The truth of who the Creator is can never be changed. For those who pretend like they own the vineyard, they have a knack for making life difficult for other people. Look at the parable of Jesus; the tenants were hired laborers. They didn’t own the company. But by pretending they did, they opened the door for violence. They became wild grapes of violence.
The servants, on behalf of the owner, showed up for the crop; one got beat, another they killed, a third they stoned. The hired tenants didn’t like the message that there’s another owner. Their pride led to violence, as many times it does. The humble admission that we are in the hands of God from birth to death, that he owns the vineyard and he owns us, removes the potential of violence. Just holding fast to that one awesome truth of God as Creator sets a path of righteousness for our lives. Remove it, and we find ourselves in the mess of Babylon.
St. Paul offers some of the best machinery regarding what to do about cultivating the vineyard, and how to avoid the vineyard mess. Whatever is honorable, he writes, do it. If there’s any question as to whether something is honorable or dishonorable, check with an honest person you trust. Whatever is just, he writes. As followers of Christ, we uphold what is just, not according to the lowly standards of the world who gets it wrong at times, but according to the teachings of our faith.
Whatever is pure, says St. Paul. Seek the cleanliness of God and his Saints, and avoid the filth of the world. Whatever is lovely, the Apostle next writes. Lovely, meaning, a reflection of God, and avoid being reflections of the unloveliness of the devilish power. Whatever is gracious, writes Paul to the Philippians from prison. The Christian form of graciousness says thank you to God for the gift of our lives, and thank you for the free gift of eternal life that will be ours. The contrast is to miserable, like Red Sox fans used to be all the time, having no hope that God has something greater for us than the limitations of this world.
St. Paul offers a list of Christian virtues to live each day. A list of working machinery. A list that helps us to understand we are not the owners of the vineyard, but the hired workers in it. We work for the owner, Jesus Christ. This truth keeps our heads on straight in this world, avoiding the craziness and violence, and enjoying the fruits of our labor now and in the life to come.
My homily today is not on the readings, which happens about once in a blue moon. With this Sunday being Respect Life Sunday, and the issue of Physician Assisted Suicide coming before our state legislature as it came before Massachusetts voters a few years back in 2012, when the question was defeated by the smallest margins, it’s imperative that we be made aware again of those who are trying to establish this horrible practice in our state. It’s back upon us, like a bad tasting meal.
Some state lawmakers are trying to legalize PAS, and doing so with financial backing from national organizations that have made Massachusetts a top priority. It’s essential that we be informed against the threat assisted suicide poses to the elderly, my favorite people in the world, to the disabled, also my favorite people in the world, and those who are dealing with serious illnesses, and how this all undermines the dignity of human life God has entrusted to us.
If a friend said to you, “Life is too hard for me, so I’m going to end it tonight,” would we just go along with it? Would we say, “Okay, if that’s what you want to do, let me help you accomplish the end of your life.” May God have mercy on my soul. This is not love by any stretch. And it’s not the answer God desires. We’re called to care for those are suffering, especially those with mental or physical disabilities, and not to leave them in despair.
Present in PAS is the potential for abuse of the elderly, my favorite people in the world. Imagine someone in your family telling you that you’re a burden, that you’re going to die soon anyway, and you need to make things easier for everyone and accept assisted suicide?
Or being diagnosed with a deadly disease, which some of us here have dealt with already, and the disease is very expensive to treat, your insurance company is not going to cover the cost of treatment, but they will cover the cheap cost of suicide drugs.
We’re a culture increasingly turning to suicide to end our suffering. In 2012, 4 states had suicide rates higher than 19 per 100,000 people; in 2016, the number jumped from 4 to 11 states with rates that high. And this does not include PAS, because those deaths are nor recorded as suicides. Which is just a dangerous mental game we play with ourselves to make ourselves look better. And not recording a suicide as suicide is part of the false narrative put forth by those who support it. Anytime the numbers have to be fudged, whether you’re buying a car, or with PAS, it’s a bad idea.
With advances today in medical technology and caring for levels of pain, it can be managed to the satisfaction of all involved, and I’ve witnessed this many times as priest. At the heart of PAS is the dignity of the human person. A disabled or frail person has equal dignity with a healthy person. Why is it that if a physically healthy person says they are suicidal we help them to live, thanks be to God. But if a disabled or frail person says the same thing, then we should help them to die? They also are people in need of caring, our support, and our compassionate love as well, love that mirrors the love of Christ. He went so far as to bring people back from the dead, rather than assist in their dying. They all have the same dignity.
We said “No” to assisted suicide back in 2012. Because of that, God allowed the Red Sox to win the World Series in 2013. I have no idea what’s gonna happen this year. But presently there are some state legislator who are trying to make PAS legal without asking the people of Massachusetts. They won’t do it, however, if we remind them that we said no once already, and we continue to advocate for better care of the seriously ill.
This practice must never be legalized in our state. We need to step up and contact our state legislators to let them know we do not want this horrendous practice legalized.
There are brochures about this attached to this week’s bulletin, as well as each entrance to the Church.
And we ask St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death, to intercede in this effort and for all of our prayers. Like the Red Sox, may we all step up to the plate and be willing to stop assisted suicide.
In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord is in full defense mode on behalf of his relative John the Baptist. The one who came in the name of righteousness and not to be forgotten after having his head chopped off by the forces of evil. And the consistent message that has been passed down over the centuries as connected to John has been the message of repentance.
Repentance, however, takes a certain set of eyes to see our lives and viewpoints on social issues in an honest manner and say, “I like this about myself, but I don’t like that about myself. I love the fact that God has graced me with a genuine love for the poor, and has provided us the capacity to care for the sick, to pray for the sick, to be attentive to their needs. But, I don’t like the fact that I get angry, or jealous, or envious of those who have the things I want, or the fame I seek, or the talent I wish I had. Therefore, I’m going to ask the Lord for the grace of conversion, or the blessings of a simple, uncomplicated life.”
The virtue so connected to John the Baptist, repentance, cannot be realized without the virtue so connected with Christ, humility. Humility comes easy to a few people, out of 7.5 billion people in the world, according to Wikipedia (and we know they’re never wrong). The rest of us, about 7.49 billion, need to work at humility really hard. To pray for the vision to see what can be changed by way of conversion, and what reflects God within us.
When in Ireland last week, our group had a wonderful tour leader loading us up with all sorts of information about the Emerald Isle. From how many pubs there are in Dublin, to the oldest pub, as well as information about the Irish Civil War that began in 1916 in the same city, while World War I was going on, to information on Belfast in Northern Ireland where a tourist can touch the wall that continues to separate the Catholic from Protestant neighborhoods in that northern city, to the meaning of many of the murals on the wall that made statements of peace and not war, as well as information that Belfast is the only city on the entire island of Ireland where a wall separating people has been built for any purpose, never mind one that separates religious believers who supposedly accept the one Savior of the world as their Redeemer.
Our tour leader was loaded with information about Ireland that would be hard to come by otherwise. One would have to read many books. And fortunately, there was no one on the tour who pretended to know more than she did. We were humble enough to know our place and listen and ask some questions along the way. We knew our role, and appreciated the expert knowledge of Ireland she shared with us.
Our Lord is pointing out the same to the Chief Priests and Elders of the People about John the Baptist. Jesus was an expert on the life of John the Baptist, and what his life meant. John was the tour leader of repentance and conversion. John was the expert, sent by God, on how we can be in a good relationship with God. And he shared his wide breath of knowledge on repentance and conversion, much of which never made it into the Scriptures, but enough for us to understand what the island of repentance requires on our part. What it looks like in the city of our families; what it looks like in the world of labor, our Church, and with our neighbor. John the Baptist was the consummate tour guide on the topic of continuous conversion.
The leaders in front of Jesus were not humble enough to heed his teaching. To absorb it, reflect on it, and apply it for the purpose of spreading peace and not confusion. If there’s a lack of peace in our lives, one of the major reasons is that we haven’t sought out the virtue of repentance enough. It takes humility to repent and convert. When we do so, we draw deeper into the humility of Christ, who humble himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.
The Chief Priests and Elders wanted nothing to do with humility. They had too much power and the material goods of the world to lose. The same goes today for Church leaders and others in the political world. Someone who lacks humility, and holds no capacity to repent for past and present mistakes, I wouldn’t follow that person to Honey Farms. But I would follow a converted prostitute all the way to heaven. So, if you see me following a prostitute, it’s because she’s converted to Christ, taking on the repentance and conversion of John the Baptist, and the humility of her Lord and Savior. My priestly advice is don’t ever follow someone who has no capacity to repent, and no disposition towards humility.
Jesus is rightfully defending John because John was of God. He was a godly Prophet who spoke the truth of conversion and repenting our sins. His way is the way of righteousness, which means to be in a good, productive relationship with the Lord. A relationship that is alive in the Spirit of Christ, and not dead in the spirit of this world. We are called to transform the spirit of this world into the Spirit of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve.
As the Chief Priests and the Elders standing before Christ take on the look of the second son in the parable, who lied about going to work in the vineyard of the Lord, the one who never showed up for honest work, we instead take on the look of the first son, who changed his mind and went to work in the Lord’s vineyard. The son who had a well-formed conscience and true humility.