Hospitality is the First Step Toward Paradise

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HOMILY FOR THE 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Readings:  Is. 5:1-7/Phil. 4:6-9

Psalm:  80:9, 12-16, 19-20

Gospel:  Mt. 21:33-43

For those growing up in the country, there is a sense that those who lived in town did not want those from out of town to join them in what they did.  They would get invited to the occasional birthday party as a kid, but as the years go by and everyone gets older, those invitations become few and far between.  Those moments would be cherished because they would never know when another one would come their way.  They would sit down and just watch everything going on.  Not because they were being anti-social, but they wanted to take in every moment, because they never knew when they would be allowed to enjoy it again.  In a way, they stopped being classmates and friends and started to become an elite societal class who they just happened to be around.  They were with them, but they weren’t one of them.

While we think that things like this can only happen in school, the sad truth is that this sort of thing happens all the time.  Take a look at the town you live or the place you work or even the church where you worship.  There are a handful of people who have control of certain areas that give them a certain power and with the help of others have a sense of empowerment over a group or area.  And when they feel threatened, they believe they have to resort to doing something drastic to keep their supposed power just to prove they are in charge.  It is one thing to be bullied because of who you are.  It is another to be bullied (or even ignored) because you are not looked upon as part of the club.

This attitude is nothing new.  The readings proclaimed today reflect the attitudes of those who were in charge to not only to take care of their own, but also to care for what they were asked to do by the owner.  When Jesus was speaking this story to the crowds, he was at an important time in his life.  The 21st Chapter of St. Matthew starts with Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on a donkey while the crowd was throwing their cloaks on the ground and waving palms in the air.  In other words, in relation to the liturgical calendar, this occurred just days after Palm Sunday, during Holy Week prior to the Easter Triduum. So, when the crowds have gathered, it was in anticipation of the Feast of Passover.

When Jesus came to the Temple, his heart sank.  In his mind (and in the mind of his Father) the Temple was his home, the world is the vineyard, and those who were chosen to bring the blessings of God to the faithful are the tenants and the workers of the vineyard.  It was this image that was proclaimed in the Psalm:  “The Vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” In order for Jesus to explain the pain and the hurt he was feeling whenever he came to Jerusalem, he tells them this story.  A landowner plants a vineyard, marks it out with a hedgerow, then builds a watchtower and wine press to begin his work.  He leases the land out to tenants as he sets out on a trip.  When it was time for the grapes to be picked and pressed, his servants came to the tenants to claim his percentage.  The tenants balked and beat up the servants to the point of death.  The owner sent another group and yet another group and each time they were beaten and killed.  Finally, the son was sent to the vineyard to collect what was due.  Believing this is their chance to take over, they kill the son and demand his inheritance.

The crowd had heard this story before.  It was something that was read to them from the Prophet Isaiah. The same story we heard in the First Reading.  “Let me now sing of my Friend,” Isaiah begins and tells his story of the vineyard.  He set up the hedges, the presses, in fact the entire operation was in place, the same way Jesus has said.   Once Jesus tells his story, he asks the chief priests and elders what the owner of the vineyard what he should do to the tenants.  They said that the tenants should be put to death and the land re-rented.  He agreed with them and told them that the stone which the builders rejected will become the cornerstone.  Therefore, the kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to those who would produce its fruit.  But who would those people be?  Jesus mentioned it in the Gospel proclaimed last week:  “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.  When John came to you….you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.” [1]

The Gospels proclaimed the past three weeks are both a warning and a sign of hope.  They are a warning to the Chief Priests and Elders of the Temple that what they had been chosen to do was for the glory of God, not of themselves.  Yet Jesus gave them one more chance to correct their behavior or the circumstances of their actions will be their own undoing.  For this Gospel foreshadowed what was to happen:  Jesus’ death on the cross and the destruction of the Temple.

While this was a warning to those in charge, this story became a cause for hope for those in their care. Some are the Tax collectors and the prostitutes that he mentioned previously.  Others are those who did not follow the Law as close as those in the Temple, but do the best they can. While others still are the ones who did not live in Jerusalem and worshipped their God on the outskirts. These are the ones that were told they were not welcome by both the workers and the tenants.  Now they are the ones who Jesus said were entering Heaven before the Chief Priests and Elders.  It is having faith in God while doing the best we can to serve him rather than paying lip service and making empty gestures that will bring us to paradise.

Who are the prostitutes and tax collectors of our day?  Who are the lepers and gentiles who are considered “unclean” to come and worship with us?  They are the ones we need to seek out and assure them that they are welcome to worship with us.  They are the elected official or the corporate executive who, because of the particular business climate, have to strive to find a balance in their work life with their personal life.  That balance can be hard, and it gives the impression to those on the outside that they have turned their backs on friends and family, and even on God.  Their lives would have the appearance that their working life or their elected life has even become their God.  When we have that view, then it is easy for those who profess to worship God to turn their backs on them and walk away, making it harder and harder to make them feel welcome. So their decision to keep striving in their professional life rather than their personal life becomes easier to make.

But our faith tells us to not turn our backs, but continue to go to them and welcome them as an old friend.  This is what the Church is asking of us when they speak of hospitality.  To be hospitable is to welcome those who are on the margins; not for our benefit, but for theirs.  Legend has it St. Brigid of Ireland had a compassion for those that were rejected by society.  She welcomed lepers and gave them shelter; she fed and clothed the poor; cared for women who were abused by men and even gave sanctuary to the animals that were pursued by hunters.[2]

Hospitality is the key for the Children of God to welcome all and be welcomed by all.  It is a word that we forget sometimes as children and unfortunately do not remember until we become adults.  And even then, there are some who don’t get it.  But if we are to be witnesses of the faith and proclaim what we (will) say in OUR Creed is true, then we must act as the emissaries of hospitality. Then the forgotten ones in school will be remembered by their classmates, who are back to being friends. The forgotten ones in government will be remembered as more than just a fellow citizen, but a neighbor.  And the one who works day in and day out in order to climb the corporate ladder will no longer be just an employee, but they will come back as a spouse and a parent.  Not for our sake, not for their sake, but for God’s sake.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Who were the ones that were excluded or ignored because of who they were or where they were from in your school? Your work?  Your city?  Or do you believe that you are the one excluded?

 

  1. Jesus tells the Chief Priests and Elders “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Why did he tell them this in light of this Gospel?

 

  1. In light of the current political and social climate, can you prevent yourself from turning your back and walking away from those whom you believe have abandoned God for money or power? How do you start?

[1] Mt. 21:32.

[2] Sanna, Ellyn “The Marginalized and the Realm of Heaven” in The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew, (Kenneth McIntosh, ed.), Vestal, New York:  Anamchara Books, 2017, p. 238.

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