Sunday, March 06, 2011

Become the Cornerstone

March 7, 2010
Memorial of Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicity, martyrs

I was reminded of the oracle pronounced by the prophet Amos against Bethel: “Your festivals shall be turned into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.” And I wept. Then at sunset I went out, dug a grave, and buried him. The neighbors mocked me, saying to one another: “Will this man never learn! Once before he was hunted down for execution because of this very thing; yet now that he has escaped, here he is again burying the dead!” Tobit 2:6-8

“What (then) will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come, put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture passage: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’?” Mark 12:9-11

Father, help us to make sure we enter you into our daily schedule despite the cost. We all say how busy we are but do we make time for you the cornerstone in our life like you made us the cornerstone in all creation? Jesus, help us to be inspired by the consistent and obedient example of Tobit to make an appointment with you daily. Holy Spirit, please lead us into an encounter with Jesus by revealing the Lord to us in each person whom we meet. Amen.

What then will the owner of the vineyard do?

The superficial plotting that the Pharisees were engaged in against Jesus was not a surprise to Jesus. In today’s reading, Jesus lets his opponents know – in no uncertain terms – that he knows exactly what they are planning. As Jesus comes out so publicly with this parable of reproach, he forces the opposition to back down at least for a few more weeks.

The symbolism in this parable is easy for us to sift out in hindsight. It may have been harder for the average person at the temple to understand if they were not a part of the conspiracy.

The vineyard denotes Israel. People will understand this based on their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. “The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his cherished plant; He looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1-7).

The tenant farmers are the religious leaders of Israel. God is the owner of the vineyard. His servants are his messengers, the prophets. The part of the story the people in the temple congregation may not realize is that this itinerant preacher before them is God’s beloved son is Jesus. Some – like the disciples – understand this but most think he is another in the long line of prophets or teachers.

In hindsight, we – and the co-conspirators – see that the punishment of the tenants refers to the punishment of the religious leaders, and the subsequent transfer of the vineyard to others refers to the people of the new Israel – Christians. That is why those in the know about the plot against Jesus backed down for now to look for another day to take him down.

We may not be plotting directly against Jesus. However, our share in His betrayal comes through sin – as we plot to minimize our obedience to Jesus’ teachings in our life.

We heard in the Sunday readings that it is easy to listen to the word of God. It is harder still to listen and obey the word. That implies that we must put His agenda before our own self, not just temporarily like the plotting Pharisees, but throughout our life as Jesus asks.

Again, we can turn to Isaiah for an earlier picture of this conflict between God’s will and man’s actions. We ignore and fail to understand God’s work and words at our own peril. “…what the LORD does, they regard not, the work of his hands they see not. Therefore my people go into exile, because they do not understand; their nobles die of hunger and their masses are parched with thirst.” Isaiah 5:12-13

Where are you plotting to put Jesus second? Maybe it is not through a sin of commission but rather a sin of omission. Where are you leaving Jesus out of your life? Where are you plotting to put something else as the cornerstone ahead of His commandments? What are those priorities – your job, your money, your physical possessions?

We have three days until Lent. How can you use this time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving to minimize your agenda and maximize His agenda?