Proper 22, 4 October 2020
Children love stories. We read books, and now there is a multi-billion-dollar film industry to tell stories on the screen in a more sophisticated way. Children watch cartoons and animated films over and over again because they see themselves as part of the story.
Today’s parable (Matthew 21:33-44) is an earthly story with a heavenly message. An extremely generous landowner loans a vineyard to certain tenants. If you own a vineyard in Europe you’re rich: it’s like a gold mine. At harvest time he sends his servants to collect his portion of the harvest, but the tenants refuse. The owner sends his son, thinking they will respect him; instead they kill him and take the land for themselves. The vineyard points to Israel, the Church and humanity; the son points to Jesus Christ, whom humanity killed.
Let us be grateful
If you were in God’s place, what would you do to the tenants who showed such ingratitude? Because God is extremely generous, what is the appropriate response of humans, but gratitude? (Psalm 116:12) We don’t deserve anything from God – everything is given because of His grace and mercy. Ingratitude is a common characteristic of humanity, which seems to be ingrained. People don’t acknowledge the good another does for them, or quickly forget it. Gratitude is remembering the good others have done. Unfortunately, it’s easier to remember the bad things people do, or the good they did not do that we wanted them to do, than the good that they do. Gratitude takes effort, while resentment does not. We have a tendency to forget: the purpose of the Sunday mass is for us always to remember God’s goodness and to respond in gratitude; without this, gratitude can easily be replaced by ingratitude.
Which story are we following?
We live in a story within a bigger story. British theologian Alister McGrath said that we live in a world shaped by stories and narratives. Each of us naturally lives within a story that shapes our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. One of the dominant narratives of Western culture is that “We are here by accident, meaningless products of a random process; we can only invent meaning and purpose in life, and do our best to stay alive, even though there is no point to life.” The Christian narrative takes a different approach: “We are precious creatures of a loving God, who has created us for something special that we are asked to do, and we have the privilege to do something good and useful for God in this world and need to work out what it is.” We find this story in the Bible; we read and listen to it every day so that we’ll never forget. If someone doesn’t know what he or she believes, that person is prone to believe anything. If you and I don’t have the Christian story, the worldly, secular story will easily creep into our hearts and eventually we’ll live by it. We find the Christian story in the Bible over and over again, and echoed in the great Christian writings down through the ages. Let us ask ourselves, what script do I believe? What script am I following? What script or story am I re-living?
A story is like following a map which tells us where to turn, which road to take or which way to go. It’s impossible to drive in Madrid using a map of Barcelona. Life is a storybook being written by God, from creation to salvation to man’s participation in glorification. You and I are the pen God uses in writing a beautiful, magnificent story of salvation, restoration, love and reconciliation.
- Through the life of Abraham, the Covenant was established;
- through David, humanity witnessed a prototype of the heavenly Jerusalem;
- the mystery of the Incarnation of God was written and told through the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
- on the day of Pentecost, new creation, God’s Kingdom on earth, was being written through the Apostles’ lives and their blood.
Today this story continues to be written through your life and mine, because of the victory of the cross. It isn’t finished yet: God continues to write the story, and we are part of it.
Our life is in the Eucharist
The Eucharist is for us to remember. In the words of Karl Barth, “God humbled Himself to exalt us; He became poor that we might become rich; He came to us so we can come to Him; He humbled Himself in obedience to the Father to raise us up into eternal life. God sent His Son Jesus Christ to fight the battle of all battles so that we might enjoy victory over sin, death and evil in this life. All this came through God’s grace, free and unmerited.” All this is through Jesus Christ, whom we remember today. Every Sunday I speak about the Eucharist, about Jesus and the love of God, because we will never understand it in one sitting.
We gather around the heavenly banquet to participate in the mystery in wonder, awe and praise. May our lives be lived out in gratitude. May our lives not be lived out in hopelessness that we have to fabricate our own meaning and purpose in life – no! God did not abandon us – He gave His life on the cross for us, that we might regain and find meaning again, better than the meaning you and I can fabricate for ourselves. May we live by the map God has set before us, the story God has written and is writing and will write for us. Only then can we find meaning and purpose in life, and that is in Jesus Christ – we cannot find it anywhere else outside God and outside the mystery of the Eucharist.