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Bishop's Homily for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 8, 2017

Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
[Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Papaikou; St. Anthony Church, Papaaloa]

A new lease on life!

That is a phrase we use to describe a change for the better in our lives, usually after we have been through some crisis or recovered from some accident or illness.  It indicates that we finally realize that life does not ultimately belong to us, that it belongs to God, and that this newfound discovery is actually freeing.   We recognize that we are tenants and not owners of what the Lord has entrusted to us.

As we reflect on this parable of Jesus, we need to ask if we are being the good stewards who give back to the owner of the vineyard what is rightfully his, or if we beat up and kill off his servants who come to collect the share of the produce that belongs to the master.

Recently I was speaking to a woman who works with what we sometimes call “at risk youth.”  These are young people who are failing in school or who are breaking the law or engaging in some behavior that is self-destructive or destructive of others.  She said that she has found that these youth often grow up in an environment in which they are continually put down, often by their own parents.  Perhaps their parents grew up in a dysfunctional home and simply do not know of any other way to relate to their own children.  Or the parents have to work so much outside the home that they have little time to spend with their children, and when they do, they are so irritable that they raise their voices and put their children down rather than building them up.  They do not know the difference between loving discipline and inadvertently beating up their own children emotionally.  Those children are the servants the master has sent into the vineyard to reap what the master wants them to take away, yet instead they are beaten and their spirits are killed.  Of course we need to examine ourselves to see if we are engaging in this kind of destructive behavior ourselves, but even if we are not, is there something we can do to remedy the situation?  Can we make it appoint to affirm these young people who receive so little affirmation at home?  Can we reach out to their parents to help carry their burdens; to listen to them when they need to vent, so that they do not take their frustrations out on their children; or to sensitively teach them a more constructive way of dealing with their children?

I also spoke recently to someone who works with the homeless, and I asked, “What are the causes of homelessness?”  There are many different causes, but among them are addictions to drugs or alcohol.  I then reflected on some who want our state legislature to legalize recreational marijuana, and on the epidemic of people who are addicted to prescription drugs.  I then wonder why it is that so many in our society feel compelled to anesthetize themselves from the burdens of life.  These brothers and sisters are sent into the vineyard to collect the good things their master wants them to have, yet their sufferings beat them up so badly that their very lives and livelihoods are threatened by their addictions, by their felt need to just cover over their suffering.  But we who are followers of Jesus can bring them a different perspective that is much more freeing.  We follow a savior who knew the greatest emotional and physical sufferings life can offer, yet who bore them with hope and joy, and whose ultimate suffering on the cross led to resurrection and eternal life; the one who was the stone rejected by the builders that became the cornerstone.  Perhaps our challenge is to learn to live gracefully through the sufferings of life, accepting them with hope and with joy, just as Jesus did, so that we can witness to our fellow servants that there is no need to anesthetize ourselves and thus ultimately put ourselves to death, but we can live with the sufferings and make them bear good fruit. 

We are followers of the Son who was sent into the vineyard of the Lord to collect what was due to God, so that he could shower his blessing even further upon his beloved children.  Yet we know that even today this Son is beaten by a very prevalent philosophy that declares oneself the owner of the vineyard, without regard to the one who truly owns it.  We beat up the Son of God when we insist that we are our own gods.  We decide when life should begin and when it will end.  We decide what gender we choose to be.  We decide what truth is and what it is not, without reference to the one who is Truth itself.  We put the Son of God to death because we think he is competition.  Or sometimes we can be more subtle about it, putting Jesus to death by smothering him in this church, thinking that we worship him only here where it is safe to do so, rather than bearing fruit for him in our homes, our schools, our places of work, and in our body politic.  We horde for ourselves the wonderful fruits of spiritual delights, when in fact God wants us to share them with others so that they, too, can be nourished from God’s bounty.

This parable of Jesus is meant to help us all examine ourselves to see whether we think of ourselves as entitled to the vineyard and everything in it, or whether we see ourselves as faithful stewards who cultivate a vineyard that belongs to God alone, and produce fruit that will last so that God can give everyone in the world a new lease on life.