Friends, the message that calls to us this week in the Scriptures is a simple one—we are mightily loved by our God, and additionally, there is nothing that God wouldn’t do to show us this great love.
The use of the vineyard in both Isaiah’s first reading and in the gospel of Matthew was an example that the people in these times would have understood—being a vinedresser was a job that really was a life’s occupation–one needed to be at it continually, preparing the ground, the plants, fertilizing the new shoots and watching and caring for the growth of the vineyard, each and every day and into the harvest—steadfast work, in other words.
Anyone who works the land knows that nature doesn’t always cooperate, but for the farmer, the vinedresser, there is always hope that this year all will come to together and produce a bountiful harvest.
Now, of course, we realize that the message is grander/larger than the plight of one vinedresser. The prophet Isaiah lets us know of the sorrow that the vinedresser—read, God, feels at the vineyard not producing as expected, because the vineyard is merely the example used by the prophet to call the peoples’ attention to the ways their God loves them—wanting only good for them and not bad.
The story of the vineyard that Jesus tells in Matthew’s gospel is really a recitation of Salvation History and of how God tried so many times to let the people know that they are loved, through one covenant or promise after another, and each time, the people turned away.
So why do we continue to hear these stories?—is there purpose for us and in our lives when we aren’t vinedressers? I believe there is.
These simple stories are the ways that our God addresses the people of old—we might use the terminology of “family” to understand God’s love for us in this day and age—we always need to apply the words of Scripture to our present day. Within the family unit then is where most of us first learned of love and care—if not in our family of origin, then hopefully within the families that we supported and raised through love given and received.
So much of what we read in Scripture brings us back to this one message—we are loved by God and that is what our God wants us to understand. Each of us were brought into existence out of the love of God and are called then, to come to know that love in our lives, and finally, to share it with others.
In all times and places, all the work in the vineyard, within the family doesn’t always go well—people are led astray and that very simple message that “we are loved” and expected to give back the loved received, falls away.
I would say that we are living in such a time now with yet another mass shooting in Las Vegas this past week. To many of us, it seems clear what needs to be done—the passing of comprehensive laws that would limit much of the high-powered and high-capacity weaponry that is not required to protect oneself. We must have back-ground checks so that those unable to responsibly handle weapons, don’t acquire them. We demand back-ground checks for anyone wanting to work with our children and vulnerable adults—why would we not require the same of those that we are going to arm with lethal weapons? It has been proven in other countries where guns are out-lawed or drastically curtailed, the number of homicides is drastically curtailed as well.
To say, as someone did recently, that, “mass shootings are the price we pay for freedom” is simply thoughtless when in actuality, our freedom should give us the peace and safety we all seek if those in control were thinking of the whole and not just the individual. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the United States Congress have acted abominably in this regard—refusing to listen to the pleas of those who have suffered at the hands of their selfish decisions.
It would seem that Paul’s words to the Philippians are appropriate in all of this: “Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise.”
The whole concept of freedom is thrown around rather loosely and not really reflective of what the founding fathers and mothers had in mind. I have included the “mothers” here because even though they received no credit, we have to assume that they had their husbands’ ears. Those who do throw the concept of freedom around loosely seem to think that living in a free country means that I have rights for certain things and can’t be told what to do within those rights. In reality, I can only be truly free, if my sisters and brothers are free. Those founding folk always intended, I believe, that the rights we enjoy in this country come with responsibilities toward the rest of the people. If I think that I have the right to own high-powered rifles that would then also be available to those who are incapable of using them responsibly, I would be wrong! The present situation in our country makes it possible for terrorists to thrive! Not as Paul has instructed, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise!
I just finished reading a book by Joan Chittister, entitled, Called to Question wherein she talks about the differences between power and strength. Those with power can wield it in ways that are not always for the greater good of all. We have seen examples in present times in both Church and State of this abuse of power. In the matter of responsible gun control, the powers-that-be in the White House and the Congress are listening to the god of money, depicted in the NRA instead of the God of Love and are trying to say that this is all about freedom.
Sister Joan goes on to speak about the personal strength of each of us that is so needed in these times. We have to speak up, we must be getting our messages to Congress, to the president and demand that they do what is in their power to do for the good of all. In many of the current polls, people want background checks, want guns restricted and Congress and the administration in Washington are ignoring that in their unwillingness to take decisive action to keep our people safe.
Yet, Joan is not without sympathy or understanding for what is needed on our parts and of how being strong, persistent, and consistent in the work of justice can be very hard, but it is something that we must do! We can’t let ourselves off the hook, as so many have said in recent days, by sending our “thoughts and prayers” and thinking that is enough. These times call for our actions at fixing what is wrong.
We can’t be cynical as President Obama cautioned recently. We must, I believe, not give up especially when we are down, but remember that our God believes in us and in all the good we are capable of, even in the face of the terror unleashed in Las Vegas this last week.
So friends, let’s do all that we can to be true followers of our brother, Jesus—in your conversations with family and friends , talk about all that we can do, even if people don’t want to talk about it—let’s remind each other of the strength we have as individuals and groups to bring change so needed for ourselves and for everyone. This is our work to do in God’s vineyard—in God’s family. May we all be blessed as we endeavor to do this great work.