Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 8, 2017
(With a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and a glass at hand…) Is it too early? Perhaps, though I’m not sure it’s ever too early for a really good glass of wine. Nonetheless, I’ll wait. Actually, waiting is a necessary part of enjoying a really good glass of wine. First of all, you have to wait until you are old enough. Then once you open the bottle you have to wait for it to breathe before you drink it. (That’s the hardest part for me.) But before you open it, you should wait for it to age on the shelf to bring out its complexities. But before that you wait for it to absorb the flavors of the barrel, after you wait for it to ferment in the stainless steel tanks. And sometimes, you just have to wait for the perfect year, when the temperature and moisture is just right to create the correct acidity of the grapes. Waiting… But we must also remember that before there is any wine with which to celebrate there is a vineyard that demands attention, vines that cry out for tender and meticulous care.
God spoke often of the vineyard as a symbol of Israel, a community of people that God planted and tenderly nourished and meticulously protected; it was a community that was to grow to become the image of God’s love at its best. Our Christian Church accepted the image of the vineyard as our own. As a community of faith, we are now the tenants of the vineyard which God has planted, the vineyard that needs constant attention and protection so that there is life to celebrate.
In the Catholic community we designate October as Respect Life Month. It would be easy to turn these days into a politically-charge month of authority and ultimatums. We could draw the line in the sand and circle our wagons and draft labels for people who are in and who are not. But our faith and our liturgy bring us beyond that, better than that. While there are certainly political issues that come to mind and political stances that may or may not represent our faith-view better than others, it would be a mistake to reduce what we believe to what any single “vote” could possibly capture in the complexities of life and death, of the vulnerability and compassion called forth for all people. The need for mercy always outweighs the need for ultimatums.
But setting all politics aside, we have to remember that first we are called to be good tenants of the vineyard, to be people who reverence every life from natural conception to natural death. Christ demands it; Christ lived it; Christ proclaimed it by his death. He was not first stone rejected by the builders and he has not been the last. But he stands as the forever-icon of the vulnerability and sacredness of every life.
When society or a nation or a community or a person deems another society or nation or community or person as less important than they are, when we decide that life could go on easier without them, the vineyard is very much in danger. When any person seems expendable, less than precious or deemed unworthy of our constant and vigilant protection for whatever reason, at that moment she or he must become the most important person in our lives. If not, there will never be anything to celebrate.
Respect Life brings the voices of those precious people to the forefront, people sometimes forgotten and often unnamed. Through them God cries out for justice. Through that person God calls for protection. Through that person God begs for reverence and respect. Like Christ, these voices are the voices of the stones that the builders have rejected. They are not always the most innocent; they are not always the most loving. They may not be the best looking or the best smelling, for that matter. They are easy to forget and easier, yet, to ignore. But these voices, those who often make our life inconvenient and sometimes make us uncomfortable -like Jesus did in his community- they must always remain cornerstones of our society and our families. If they cease to be that, to be the most precious among us, the vineyard ceases to be. There will be no wine.
On the other hand, in a community where the vulnerable are protected, where the rights of immigrants and refugees are honored, God’s vineyard thrives. In a society where the unborn are protected, God’s vineyard is at its best. In a home where the innocence of every child is protected, God’s vineyard produces. In a church where the poor are protected, God’s vineyard is alive. In a world where every life is as precious as the next, no matter what the color, sexual orientation, origin of birth, life expectancy or criminal record, then will there be wine to pour. Until then my brothers and sisters, God’s work is not done. And neither is ours.
So I the words of St. Paul: …whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is just pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen (in Christ). Then the God of peace will be with you.
Then we can enjoy that glass of wine.