09 October 2017

Department of Redundancy Department

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes hearing something a second time is just annoying.  How many times has a parent responded to a nagging or whining child who keeps bringing up the same issue, “I heard you the first time”?  Or sometimes we might hear deja vu all over again, which is saying the same thing twice, since deja vu colloquially means all over again.  Or, in seminary, if someone said something redundant, we would snarkily ask if he was from the Department of Redundancy Department.  
Today we hear a very similar parable twice: from Isaiah in the first reading and from Jesus in the Gospel.  But this is not Jesus being redundant; this is one of those times when someone says something twice in order to stress its importance.  And the chief priests and the elders of the people would have recognized the parable as Jesus told it.  They would know what it means.  
And for us, who have heard this story numerous times, we can probably intuit the meaning fairly easily.  But one point that is the basis for the entire parable, is to whom the vineyard belongs.  In Isaiah’s version, Isaiah talks about a friend who has a vineyard, who does all the work, but the fruit of his work is not what he expected.  In Jesus’ version, it is still a vineyard, but he talks about the people working it, rather than the fruit that is produced.  But in both cases, God is the clear owner of the vineyard.  It does not belong to Isaiah; it does not belong even to the tenants or the servants.  God owns the vineyard, and he expects it to produce proper fruit.
So often we can think of the Church, the Body of Christ, as ours.  In the proper context, we rightfully say that we, the People of God, are the Church.  But the body cannot do anything without a head; and Jesus is the head of the Church, while we are the other members.  We cannot do anything without Jesus.  Sometimes we think that the Church can teach whatever she wants.  But that’s only true if we are the owners of the vineyard.  If, instead, we are merely tenants, or those housed in the vineyard, than we don’t get to make decisions about the structure of the property, or what fruit we want to grow.  We only get to work in the vineyard.
Right now it is very popular to say that the Church needs to change her teaching to keep up with the times.  We should allow women to be priests; we should stop talking about homosexual acts as sinful; we should recognize homosexual marriage; we should let people get divorced and remarried without an annulment.  But that very approach betrays a lack of understanding about who owns the vineyard.  God has revealed to us, through Sacred Scripture and by the Holy Spirit guiding the Pope and the bishops in what they teach as to what we are to believe and how we are to live, what is His will for His vineyard, the Church.  We cannot change it, because the vineyard is not ours.  The Pope and the bishops cannot simply make up what we are to believe or how we are to live.  If they teach something contrary to what we call the Deposit of Faith, the body of beliefs that have been handed on to us from the apostles and their successors, then they can either be reprimanded, or sometimes even lose communion with the Church.  
But God doesn’t expect us to only guess what His plan is for His vineyard.  He has given us the prophets to tell us His will; He has given us Jesus who is the full revelation of the Father, who leads us into all truth; and He has given us the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, to help us to know what to believe and how we are to live.  Certainly there have been some bad tenants: there have been bad laypeople, bad priests, bad bishops, and even a few bad popes!  But God’s vineyard has remained intact.  And we have an unbroken line of consistent teaching from Old Testament through the New Testament right down to 2017.  

Sometimes that has put the Church against what is common or what is popular.  The Romans certainly didn’t want us to claim there is only one God, and that the emperor was not God; certainly there have been cases for over 2,000 years where it would have been much easier not to follow Jesus’ teaching on marriage and family life; Turkish and Arab Armies during different empires tried to invade Europe and supplant Christianity by force with Islam; France, the so-called eldest daughter of the Church tried to destroy the Church and supplant it during the French Revolution; the Mexican federal government and local American governments tried to make Catholicism illegal or irrelevant; Joseph Stalin famously wondered how many military divisions the pope has; and recently our own government has sought to make Catholic institutions provide services that are contrary to our faith.  And it would be easy to capitulate, to give up, and to simply go along with the culture.  But then we would be betraying the mandate of the owner of the vineyard, and we would risk having the vineyard leased to other tenants who will produce the right fruit.  Will we listen to the parables of the Lord’s vineyard?  Will we, as tenants, listen to the ones the Lord sends us so we know how to tend his vineyard?