27th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death,” or “The God of peace will be with you.” These are the destinations of the two paths taken from our readings, the first from the Gospel and the terrible tale of the tenant farmers and the other from St. Paul’s always uplifting letter to the Philippians. What shall we choose?
At first glance our lives do not seem to mirror the ugly story of the tenant farmers at all. A landowner has built a vineyard with everything needed for success and then leases it to his tenants who are to repay him a certain amount of the yield. How does such a straight forward arrangement go so horribly wrong?
Well, the tenants decide the agreement they made was unfair and they do not want to surrender the produce owed to the landowner. And maybe they did not make the best deal. But what is completely lacking in their decision is any kind of dialogue. They have decided this among themselves and they act on it immediately. There is no effort to reach out or to renegotiate. They have decided what is just for them and they will pursue it at any cost. Their isolation from any other party inevitably leads to a hardening of their position since their only conversations are with people who are already part of the decision. This vehement agreement hardens positions and makes another view seem like heresy. It is the problem that plagues so much of our politics. Our isolated decisions are often are most demanding (for there can be no compromise) and our most selfish (for there was no dialogue.)
This leads inevitably to single-minded, obsessive thinking. This idea of what is deserved rules everything. Nothing else matters and nothing that gets in the way has any value. Soon, anything is justifiable in attaining the desired goal. The servants who are sent are killed as even moral standards pale in comparison to the idea of justice held by tenant farmers. Other things, ideas and even people are just obstacles to be removed. Their God is their desire and they will do anything they can to serve it.
And as foreign as this story sounds, it shows the root of all sin. What is it that we all have in common? We are all sinners. And I bet no one plans any of their sins. I will sin today but it is not like I have blocked out the time of 2-4pm to do it. No, our sins occur when we single-mindedly pursue what we want and do not take into consideration what others need or how others feel. Sin is rooted in selfishness, isolation, pride and greed.
All of this creates a habit of violence. Once the violence begins and the price has been raised, the tenant farmers become all the more committed to their mission. Having shed blood, the only way to justify the sacrifice is to become more feverishly committed to the goal. What is desired has literally become a matter of life and death. The habit of violence has completely blurred their vision and perverted their thinking. How bizarre is it when they conjecture that if they kill the owner’s son, they will “acquire his inheritance.” There is of course no way to that the owner will hand over the vineyard to the killers of his son, but so deeply enmeshed are they in the culture and habit of violence, they have convinced themselves that violence can accomplish anything.
We may think that we are immune to such habits of violence. Not too many here are guilty of stoning another. But we too perpetuate it. If your goal is to achieve the best score possible on that test, if that is the desire you are servicing and that alone, you may cheat and conclude the action is justifiable due to the importance of the goal. How many times when there is conflict in our families do we resort to fighting, another habit of violence. And once the fight begins, resolving the conflict goes out the window. Then there is only a strategy to win the fight.
We know that things ended badly for the tenants as the violence they meted out was visited upon them. That is a possible conclusion. But what if all that single-mindedness did work? Would that be a positive outcome? I don’t see how. How could attaining the goal bring peace when peace was never part of the process? How could God be present when God was never part of the journey? Since only peace and only God satisfies, their conquest cannot fulfill all their desires. They can only move on to obsessively desire the next thing.
I am a competitive guy. I like to win. Every October, we do a mass count and send it in the diocese and I want those numbers to go up. If you tell me you are going to Disney this October, I might say I am happy for you but secretly I am thinking, ”Hey they won’t be counted.” But if our “winning” gets in the way of God’s peace, we cannot be winners at all.
The tenant farmers’ plight can be contrasted to the remedy St. Paul recommends to the Philippians so that they may “have no anxiety at all.” How nice does that sound? He says we should go God with prayer, petition and thanksgiving to cure the curse of desire.
When we pray, our whole world widens. The tenant farmers world became narrower and narrower as they only sought that which they thought should be theirs and they were desperate to obtain. Praying to God embraces all that God cares about; all of creation, all of God’s creatures. We cannot go before the majesty and goodness of God without an awareness of the dignity of all people. No thing and no one are merely objects in the way. Their justice matters to us!
Secondly, we are told to go with God with our petitions, to express our desires. The difference being that our desires are given to God, they do not become our God. We place our petitions humbly like a child going to a parent, truly believing in what we ask, but trusting our good parent will know what to give us. We ask, but we also accept a judgment far wiser than ours.
And we do all this in a spirit of thanksgiving aware and amazed at what God has already given us in life, love and community. We trust that God knows what we need and is able to supply it. This is the God who gives enough for God is love beyond telling and is always offering us the grace to recognize the divine beauty in everything.
Then we shall certainly obtain what we desire for our ultimate desire is not this or that, but union with Christ. What we are called to attain is a relationship with God and no other possession matters as much. What does that desire give us? According to St. Paul we will receive “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious.” And finally, the peace we long for will be ours for rather than being conquerors, we will be conquered by God who knows who to give us good things. “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”