Do Not Be Afraid

27th Sunday of OT -Year A Homily Fr. James M. DiLuzio C.S.P.

Scriptures: Isaiah 5: 1-7:   Psalm 80: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10:   Gospel of Matthew 21: 33-43

Parents say to their children:  This is your Home; We have taken the responsibility of your material needs, your need for love and nurturing AND the essential importance of learning about cooperation, mutual respect and the give and take, patience and generosity required for appreciating life in this family, and ultimately, in this world.  Together we are building your FUTURE.  And, if the family is a family of faith, they would add, continually, “God will see us through.”

The tenant farmers in the Gospel are equivalent to children or adults dependent upon a parent/ adult / employer for their life and livelihood. But evidently, they either have not had good parenting OR, for reasons we are not given, they found themselves filled with FEAR & DISTRUST.   They turned inward instead of outward.  Rather than bringing grievances, uncertainties, disappointments to their employer, they decided to take matters into their own hands. No desire for deeper understanding, no desire for compromise, no prayer, no attempt at dialogue are in evidence. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they empowered their fear and distrust which inevitably gave way to “Selfishness” and “Greed.”  Their fears fed envy and jealousy, their distrust, violence. In the parable, the consequences were deadly; a matter of spiritual life and death, because the true OWNER of the Vineyard was God, the Father of All, who welcomes our questioning, our prayer, our disappointments.  In hearing the parable today, we are meant to muse “If only the Tenant Farmers had turned to God who sent His Son to bring deeper understanding, and hope; if only WE could abandon our fears and distrust–be it of God, Church or State and believe without reservation that God’s Holy Spirit is with us continually to inspire, to engage and motivate us to work through our anxieties and fears and strive for a better future.

Many commentators and pundits tells us that Americans are not living in faith these days but in Fear and Distrust. We read that many Americans are afraid of immigrants, of foreigners, or people of religions other than their own.  They read, see and hear the news –which, because of the way news is prioritized—is often the BAD NEWS of community, country and cosmos—and are literally afraid and demoralized.  Others are afraid of our government limiting our freedoms, while, at the same time, many others lost faith in our government to keep us safe.  Some want protection from the economy and its impact on the workforce, others consider that inappropriate intervention.  Some make speeches about freedom of religion and freedom of speech–noting that, at times, questions as to “whose religion” and “whose speech” are not satisfactorily answered; nor is the degree to which hate and violence-inducing speech is a right or abuse of a right.  And most recently, many writers deduce that fear is what makes so many people unwilling to evaluate the benefits and burdens of the 2nd Amendment– about the right to bear arms as it applies to the 21st century.   Common sense tells us that the lawmakers of 1791 could never have envisioned the great diversity of guns and ammunitions available to the American civilian today—certainly not the kind that were used to kill a music loving crowd in Las Vegas.  But, for many, it is as if the mere suggestion of a discussion on the possible ways we could adapt an 18th century Law to 21st century circumstances was somehow “Un-American.”  We have to ask, “What price “liberty?” when fear and distrust rule the heartland?

One thing the Scriptures tell us is that Liberty has responsibilities.  Individual Freedoms of one person or group do, in fact, impact the individuality and freedom of others. When Jesus tells us that He is with us “For when two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them,” it’s not only His assurance of his answers to prayer, but to the necessity of communion with and among others for His presence to take full hold of our lives.  To apply this Gospel to ourselves today, we must ask, “To what extent do we have faith and trust in God?  In Jesus and His teachings?  In the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins as part of the road to Resurrection of the Body and Life in the World to come?”  In short, “to what extent do we offer Jesus the highest priority within our lives, positions and priorities, and, yes, even our politics?” To what extent to we cling to Jesus who repeatedly tells people of faith: “Do Not Be Afraid?”

The Gospel today is not only a reflection on religious history regarding those who did not accept Christ as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, which, on the surface, is exactly what the parable is about.   It is also about how any or all of God’s Children can misuse the faith and life situations we have been given.  It’s about how people who lack trust in God, in Providence, in the Holy Spirit active in the world bring suffering upon themselves.

Perhaps it is time for us to evaluate our contributions to America’s distrust and fears; confess our personal culpabilities as to the extent we contribute to the fears and anxieties of our age, rather than trust in God to guide us through them with patience, with charity, with hope. Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 Paul’s emphasis on Thanksgiving strengthens the foundation of faith that Everything belongs to God: every land and every people.  Recognizing our very lives are “on loan” from God, makes gratitude the only way to live.  We have this Eucharist to focus us on Thanksgiving, trust that the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus, both, will guide us through the anxieties of the age to insist on fairness, justice and hope—and not to be afraid of change that is for the better for all rather than a few; not be afraid to cultivate charitable discourse “in-person,” i.e., with persons rather than in the impersonal dimensions of the internet alone.  Not afraid to say we believe in a communion of saints-in-the making, believe in Christ Jesus and that communion commands dialogue with rich and poor, church leaders and local communities, police and their precinct constituents, neighbors with neighbors, citizens with immigrants, different colors of peoples mingling with peoples of different colors.

May this Eucharist increase the grace that endows us with courage, perseverance and hope to address this age of anxiety, its fears and discouragements. May our worship today inspire us to advance the Good News: God is with us, to help us expand God’s kingdom so that HOPE is offered to all, here, now and in the Future for generations to come.

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