Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time A
What were you doing at 4:30am this morning? (When I asked a couple of guys this question at the 8:00am, one said he was doing dishes and the other said he was watching sports on TV. I should have known I’d be talking with early risers at the early Mass!) Most reasonable folks were sleeping…which is what I wanted to be doing. But at 4:25am, the emergency pager went off. Groggy and bleary-eyed, I called the hospital to find out what was going on. The nurse told me there was an elderly woman in the ER—let’s call her “Gertrude”—who wanted to see a priest. I asked if it was an emergency. She answered, “No, not really. If you waited and came at, like, 8:00am, or even later, I’m sure it would be OK.” Naturally, I then asked why she’d gotten me out of bed. “I didn’t get you out of bed!” she replied. I’m pretty sure she was trying to be funny…but I’m not very good at getting jokes at 4:30am. So I said, “Just tell Gertrude I’ll be there in a little while.”
As I was making my bed, I was spittin’-and-sputterin’. And while I brushed my teeth, I grumbled. And as I was getting into the shower, I was about to say, “Gotta look my best for Gertrude!” when I caught myself and said instead, “Gotta look my best for Jesus!” since he’s the one who had really called me out at such an early hour.
On my way to the ER, I got thinking about all of this in light of today’s gospel reading. This is the third Sunday in a row that Jesus takes us into the vineyard. The parable we’ve just heard isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy one. In fact, it’s got some rather sharp edges. The landowner sends one messenger after another into his vineyard…and the first they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Understandably, we hear of these messengers and think of the prophets, who were given such poor receptions by God’s people. But wasn’t Gertrude also a messenger of the Lord? Had not the beloved Son called for me in the guise of a frightened old lady in a hospital bed? How many other times had I failed to recognize him, or treated him poorly, because I was too focused on my own plans, on my own needs, on my own desires?
Jesus is clearly addressing his pointed parable to those who have been appointed to tend the vineyard: to the chief priests and elders; to the religious leaders of the day. Deacon Nick and Deacon Brent—that now includes the two of you. As Bishop LaValley reminded you in his homily at your ordination yesterday, the gift you have received isn’t for yourself, but for the Church. Your ordination isn’t about gaining the power and authority to get your own way, but to be of service in the name and in the likeness of Christ.
But that message isn’t only for the clergy. Jesus is clearly basing his parable on one told by Isaiah nearly 500 years before. And in Isaiah’s song of the vineyard, it’s the vines that have yielded, not the sweet fruit that was desired, but wild, sour grapes. God has done so much to nurture and cultivate us! He’s given us the Scriptures and the Sacraments and the saints. He’s given us the communion and community of the Church. He has every right to expect a good and bountiful harvest from us! Can we honestly say that we’re we giving him his due?
In the aftermath of terrible shootings in Las Vegas, many people have been asking this week, “How could something like that happen? Why would anybody do it?” The answer comes from the same dark place in the human heart that could cause one to get up on the wrong side of the bed, or to mistreat or disparage or reject another person. St. Paul’s message this morning is so timely. He tells us to have no anxiety at all, to be at peace. And in a world marred by our sinfulness, he tells us how to find that peace—how to live by God’s grace: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is 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 me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
My friends, let us live each day—no matter the hour—with our eyes fully open, that we might recognize Jesus whenever he comes, no matter his current disguise. Let us always bring forth—through acts of love and mercy, thought our care and compassion for one another—the rich, sweet fruit of the kingdom that God’s so desires from us.