October 8, 2017
Listen here or read the text below.
There are two parables in our readings today, and they are very similar. In our first reading from Isaiah, and in our Gospel reading from Matthew, we have a landowner who lavishes extraordinary care on his vineyard. He digs it, clears it of stones, plants it with choice vines, builds a watchtower, hews out a wine vat in it.
He dreams of beautiful, bountiful grapes ripening in the sun, and eventually becoming choice wine!
In both stories, the landowner represents God’s dream for God’s people. In the Isaiah parable, the people are represented by the vineyard itself that produces lousy, wild grapes. In the Gospel parable, the people are represented by the tenants who do horrible things in hopes of obtaining the vineyard for themselves. In both stories, the people fail miserably.
God lavished love upon them. But where did God’s people place their trust? Not in God. In things other than God: magic arts, foreign powers, earthly wealth, military might, and other idols. And it rendered them isolated and alone.
Both parables also show how God is inextricably bound to the people, to us. And both show how those ties can go bad.
As you know, last Sunday night, a crazed man went on a shooting rampage that wreaked death and devastation to hundreds. And the waves of pain, shock, horror, and confusion permeate our entire society. Because we are tied to one another, we wince and we grieve. And because we are tied to one another, we have an absolute need to understand why he did this. We hang on the words of the FBI, “We will get to the bottom of this no matter how long it takes.” It’s nearly impossible to ease the pain or clear the confusion without knowing why.
And so, we search for an answer. Where? His relationships, his ties, his bonds. We instinctively know that those close to him might shed light on the mystery.
Indeed, it’s been a sad, troubling, confusing, and depressing week.
But the bonds that hold us together do not always go bad, of course. The vast majority of our ties remain true, whole, and strong. And some become cornerstone bonds that sustain us for a lifetime.
On the day that you were baptized, there were people who had big dreams for you. They dreamt that as you grow with character and integrity, you would also grow into a deep, abiding relationship with God, and that faith would become integral in your life and guide you all along the way. Your parents, your godparents, your grandparents, and all those in the community of faith shared this dream for you. They became a cornerstone for you to launch a life of faith.
I know that most of you can relate to what I’m talking about because you, yourself have had this dream for your child, your godchild, your grandchild.
I don’t believe I have yet told you about the birth of first son, Nicolo. Rene had a very difficult pregnancy, and he was born 11 weeks premature, and weighed just over two pounds. He was very tiny. So small that we have a photo of him wearing my wedding ring . . . on his elbow. He spent ten of those weeks in an Isolette incubator in the hospital, while Rene & I spent most of each day at the hospital with him.
We were young. This was our first child. We were often confused, and day-to-day we didn’t know what to expect. But we were not alone. Far from it.
All the while, we were surrounded with love, support, and real help from our community of faith—St Patrick’s parish in Spokane, WA. Parishioners mobilized an effort of support that included meals each day, regular hospital visits, baby gifts, money, you name it. On the day that Nicolo was baptized, he was truly named and claimed by the entire community of St. Pat’s.
So a dozen or so years go by. We had moved from Spokane to Portland. When Nicolo was 12 or 13 we took a trip back to Spokane to visit friends, and of course went to Mass at St. Pat’s. I’ll never forget that Sunday morning and all these people, especially woman, who Nicolo did not know at all, demanded to hug him, kiss him, hold him, and tell him of their love for him. He hated it, of course. After all he’s 12. But his mom and I were touched beyond anything you can imagine. A cornerstone experience for Rene and me.
By design, each generation takes what is most precious and hands it off to the next generation. And for the most part, does it as carefully and lovingly as possible, like the landowner with his vineyard. Often, the younger generation doesn’t get what’s going on, doesn’t recognize what is so precious, interprets the gestures of love and care as meddling and attempts to control. But so it has been, down through the ages, generation after generation.
We are bound to one another . . . sometimes across many miles of separation, sometimes across cultural and ethnic boundaries, and certainly across the generations. And some of those bonds become a cornerstone of our lives that sustain us and guide us and are never forgotten.
These bonds are important, and so today we will explore our generational solidarity together during our first G.I.F.T. session after mass [on Sunday].
Like the people of Judah to whom Isaiah was speaking, and like the vineyard tenants in the Gospel parable, we will sometimes fail in our covenant with God and each other. We will fall short. We will turn our backs on God and on one another. But like the women of St Pat’s welcoming Nicolo into their arms, God will always and forever remain true to the covenant of unconditional love and forgiveness that God has for each and every one of us.