Gospel Reflection For Sunday 8th October 2023 27th Sunday Ordinary Time – by Fr Brian Maher OMI
Gospel Reflection for Sunday October 8th 2023 | 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The people who populate Matthew’s parables remind me a bit of the little girl in the poem who had “a little curl, right in the middle of her head. “When she was good, she was very, very good,” the poet tells us, “…but when she was bad, she was horrid.” Matthew’s parables are filled with the “very, very good” (the amazingly forgiving King, the super-generous landowner) or the “horrid” (the wicked servant, the grumbling workers in the vineyard). Today is no different, but this time the “horrid” take the ultimate step and resort to murder – twice!
As with the parable last week there is no need to explain it. Its meaning is clear and obvious. The tenants of the vineyard are truly ‘horrid’. We are shown how their wickedness grows over time; how two sets of servants are beaten and killed before the landowner sends his own son, confident that even they would not kill him. How wrong he was!
In contrast the landowner is patient and tolerant. Despite their disregard for him and their violence towards his servants he gives them three chances to hand over his share of the crop. I doubt very much is many of us would be that understanding!
Finally, of course, the landowner has to act. The tenants come to a “wretched end” (we can only imagine what that might be!) and other tenants, presumably honest and trustworthy, are employed to replace them.
The message is summed up in the last verse, telling us that the Kingdom of God is for those who deserve it; not for those who think they have a right to it.
It is well worth while, I think, to pause and reflect on this: “the Kingdom of God is for those who deserve it; not for those who think they have a right to it.”
In our modern world our ‘rights’ are very important to us. They have become almost part of our DNA. They energise us, particularly when we feel they have been taken from us. When I worked in second level education with teenagers, they often, usually humorously, reminded me of their ‘rights’ under the Charter of Human Rights. They loved to claim they were being ‘tortured’; the definition of ‘torture’ in the Charter being a “cruel or unusual punishment”! Explaining to them that ‘rights’ came with corresponding ‘responsibilities’ usually took the wind out of their sails – for a while!
Be that as it may, all of us are rightly aware that we have rights simply by virtue of being human. Frequently, the opening lines of the Constitution of a Country state the basis of these rights.
In ancient times Pharaoh’s, Emperor’s and Kings believed they were Gods, claiming the absolute rights of a God, including that they be worshipped. In more ‘enlightened’ times, it was believed that God bestowed these almost absolute rights on Monarch’s by virtue of their family name and status. Even today most countries with a King or Queen function with some version of this “Divine right of Kings”.
Wars are still waged and millions die because of what are called ‘rights’. Vladimir Putin, I read recently, genuinely believes that he (Russia) has a ‘right’ to Ukraine by virtue of historical boundaries. Israel claims it has a ‘right’ to all of Israel because it was granted to them by God (The Promised Land of the Old Testament). China’s ‘right’ to Taiwan, Britain’s ‘right’ to the Falklands, the list is almost endless.
Until quite recently slavery gave one person ‘the right’ to own another person, even if there were laws outlining how slaves were to be treated.
Today we argue, debate and fight over the rights of the unborn child, the right to take another human life as capital punishment allows, the right to take my own life, the right to assist a person end their life and so on.
Very topical at the moment, in Europe especially, is the very thorny issue of the ‘rights’ of Asylum seekers and those who arrive in our countries in small, extremely dangerous boats and hidden in the back of airless lorries? What ‘rights’ do they have? I must admit I am tempted to add “..if any!” because increasingly political rhetoric seems to suggest that they have very few rights. They are spoken of in almost non-human terms, a ‘flood’ of emigrants, a ‘tsunami’ of people arriving on our shores, etc.. Labels like ‘illegals’, ‘criminals’, ‘mobs’ etc. strip from them even their right to human dignity.
Our response to all of these issues is very relevant to today’s Gospel.
I am more and more convinced the grasping the meaning of the life of Jesus and coming to know the God he revealed to us, means coming to understand “The Kingdom of God” which was his constant refrain. He came, not to talk about some theoretical or far away Kingdom of ideals, but to usher-in the final and permanent Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom he spoke of was not some ‘pie-in-the-sky’ Kingdom. Nor was it some psychological yearning for a father-figure to guide and protect us. The Kingdom of God was as real as the flesh and blood person of Jesus himself. He talked about, but more importantly, he lived this Kingdom in his own life, death and resurrection.
It would be a mistake to think that Jesus was talking about some private afterlife we earn by being personally good. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus tell us this. The Kingdom of God is about ‘now’: “Thy Kingdom come….” he said, “…thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is as much about our earth as it is about Heaven. Why would God bother to become one of us; why would he live and die with us, unless his Kingdom was for our earth, just as it was for Heaven?
The Bible tells us there, “…there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth” when the Kingdom of God is realised. When God comes in the clouds with his angels, he is not coming to destroy his beautiful creation; he is coming to renew it. I often think it would be better to talk about the ‘last’ day, and the ‘last’ judgement, as the ‘first’ day and the ‘first and only’ judgement. When that day comes the Kingdom of God, the reign of God, the new and eternal Kingdom of peace, love, justice, and joy, begins on Earth.
You see, if we are waiting for the ‘world to end’ then we don’t need to take too much responsibility for it. If we are ‘waiting to die’ so that we can ‘go to Heaven’, then we don’t need to worry too much about what happens here on earth. That negates what Jesus sacrificed for us.
When Jesus completed his own Mission on earth and returned to the Father, he left the Kingdom in our hands. “Go…” he said, “…and make disciples of all nations….” (Go and make my Kingdom visible everywhere). “…and know this; I am with you always, even to the end of time.”
We are charged with making the Kingdom of God visible in our world. Jesus began it, he left it with us, promising that he would always be present through the Spirit to support and guide us. We have been given a huge responsibility – to prepare the way, like John the Baptist, for the final revealing of the Kingdom of God. It will happen when we have made the world ready to recognise and welcome it.
So, in today’s Gospel, what is Jesus telling us about the Kingdom of God? We find the answer – a surprising and challenging answer in the last sentence: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
It is not enough to be in the vineyard doing our own thing, looking after ourselves and causing no harm. That’s what the tenants of the parable were doing …… until the owner asked them for his share of what they produced. That’s when they refused. After all, they grew the fruit. It was their work that brought it to fruition. They didn’t have to share it. They had a ‘right’ to it…. or so they thought.
We must never allow ourselves to think that the Kingdom of God is ours by some kind of ‘right’. Prayer, mass, fasting, sacrifices, offerings, …. none of these give us ‘a right’ to the Kingdom. It is arrogant to presume that we have a ‘right’ to God. We don’t! It is hypocrisy to act as if we have earned a ‘right’ to the Kingdom of God. We haven’t.
The Kingdom of God is for those who “produce its fruit”, and it was Jesus who showed us what this fruit is: Forgiveness, gentleness, peace, justice, tolerance, joy, hope, love. It is to those who try to live according to these values….and who fail… and start again… and again… and again who will inherit the Kingdom of God.
This has implications for us every day. Our talk, our conversations, out actions, our judgements, our decisions, even our thoughts must be forgiving and gentle and peaceful and just and tolerant and joyful and full of hope and always loving.
There is a warning in the reading too: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
The Kingdom of God will be populated by those we might least expect to be there. Those we reject, laugh at, scorn, look down on, may well be the cornerstones of God’s Kingdom.
The poor, the voiceless, the marginalised, the asylum seekers, the homeless, prisoners, those we call sinners……everyone we so easily reject as unworthy have a right to be part of God’s Kingdom.
What we can be sure of is that once we begin thinking that we have a ‘right’ to the Kingdom, we will lose it.
The wonderful truth is that nobody has a right to the Kingdom – we are all sinners, and everybody has a right to the Kingdom purely because that is the way God wants it.
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Gospel Sunday October 8th 2023|
This is the landlord’s heir: come, let us kill him
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