Sep 30, 2011

27th Sunday - Respect life in the vineyard

Michelangelo: Creation of Man, Sistine Chapel

Sunday Word:
A well-known legend has been told about St. Lawrence,  a third century Deacon of the Roman Church. Lawrence was given responsibility to care for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor.  When Lawrence knew that he would be arrested, he sought out the poor and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum.  When the pagan prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that Christians must be very wealthy. 
He sent for Lawrence and said to him:  “Your doctrine says that you must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  Bring all these treasures; the emperor needs them to maintain his forces in the empire.” 

So Lawrence replied the Church was indeed very rich but that he would need some time to set everything in order.  “After three days,” he told the prefect, “I will bring you those treasures.”  The prefect agreed and Lawrence left.

Three days later he returned with a great number of the blind, lame, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows for the prefect.  The prefect was incensed at Lawrence’s insult and angrily reminded him that he had asked for the Church’s treasures.
Lawrence looked at him, pointed to the gathering of the poor and sick and simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”

It is a wonderful story about the value the Church has always placed on the human person.  Above all the treasures God has created, the human person has the greatest worth. That fundamental belief rooted in both Scripture and the long tradition of the Church, drives the moral framework of the Christian faith. The famed Ten Commandments are a moral framework based upon social relationships in light of God’s law in our life.  
This weekend and for the entire month of October, we mark our respect for human life. Like St. Lawrence, the true worth of the Church is measured by how well the people of God are served and valued above all other needs of the Gospel.  The variety of ministries in parish life exist for the people; to make the Gospel of Christ understandable in the lives of people and to help them come to know what God desires of us and the joy of serving the Lord.

The image of the vineyard is clear again in our readings this weekend in both Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew.  We hear of fresh grapes and sour grapes and of a vineyard that is the sight of murder and insurrection.  Not the most pleasant biblical imagery for sure.
But, as always, it is a significant image of a God who chose a people but found them rebellious and unfaithful.  Then that same God sends his messengers to the vineyard where those prophets who bear his message find again that the people are not interested.  So much that the prophets are eliminated. Finally, the son of the vineyard owner (Jesus) is sent but he too suffers the same fate as that of the prophets.  One would think after all this uprising that God would just say, “To heck with it all.  I’m finished.” In fact, the end of the Gospel parable implies that is what the owner (God) says: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

A narrow understanding would implicate the Jewish people as the ones who rejected the divine offer. But the Word of God is not a word from the ancient past.  It speaks loud and clear to us today. We are the vineyard of the Lord and we too have a responsibility to care for what has been given to us.
The greatest responsibility we have is to care for each other.  Respect Life Sunday and this entire month is a time to take stock of where we are both in our personal lives and in the greater life of the Christian community.  

All human life issues need our attention beginning with the unborn child, the elderly, those in prison, the immigrant, the poor, the terrible scourge of human trafficking, the quality of health care, those living under threat of war. It’s an enormous plateful to say the least.
In the end, though, it seems to come down to that fundamental question about our responsibility to respond to what God has offered each of us – a place in his vineyard.  If we truly believe and lived according to the truth that the human person is central, the deepest reflection of God among us, it would motivate us to seek generosity rather than selfishness. To offer forgiveness rather than retribution.

As we examine the life issues, who is more vulnerable than an unborn child or a terminally ill older person? Do our national laws reflect this?
As parents bring a child(ren) into the world, are they willing to put aside their old way of life and now reorient themselves for the sake of the human treasure before them? Or, do we live with an attitude of entitlement?

Do we believe the criminal on death row deserves any sort of dignified treatment or do we feel that “He/she deserves what they get?” The death penalty, of which the U.S. remains one of the few countries in the world, is not justice – it is unequally applied, based in revenge, and no longer necessary. A life for a life is just two dead people.
What of people living in poverty?  The unemployed, the immigrant who arrives here? Which law governs our actions – that of strict “justice” or that of mercy born of the Gospel?

None of these are easy answers and every life issue has its hot spot buttons.  But this weekend and the month of this seasonal change might be a time to reassess where we stand in the Lord’s vineyard and how much we care about one another.   
As Blessed John Paul II wrote:  “Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent.”  (Gospel of Life, no. 87)

What a treasure we have to offer the world – an alternative to the Gospel of the secular culture which emphasizes the practical and the useful as a measure of worth.