Monday, May 30, 2016

He Had One Other To Send

For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. 2 Peter 1:5-7

He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  Mark 12:6-8

God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully [as it seems]
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion those who have died
serving their countries
in the futility of combat.
There is none of us but must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
We believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
(From a Prayer by Rev. Dick Kozelka, who died in 2010.  He was the retired minister, First Congregational Church of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.)

We see a stark contrast today in the behaviors and qualities which we are encouraged to emulate in the First Letter of Peter.  Set that aside with the critique that Jesus delivers in the parable of the tenants.

The Notes to the New American Bible point out “the climactic gradation of qualities beginning with faith and leading to the fullness of Christian life, which is love.  This series supports a similar series of “virtues,” though the program and sense here are different than in Paul:

Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.  Romans 5:3-5

The fruit of living according to these virtues is knowledge of Christ.  However, their absence is spiritual blindness.  Spiritual blindness may be an apt charge for the religious leaders of Israel we encounter in today’s Good News.  They do not even take the time to recognize the Son of God in their midst despite their piety and study. 

The vineyard denotes Israel just as it did in the book of the Prophet Isiah:  The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, the people of Judah, his cherished plant; He waited for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry! (Isiah 5:7).

The notes in the NAB remind us that the tenant farmers are the religious leaders of Israel. God obviously is the owner of the vineyard. His servants are his messengers, the prophets. The beloved son is Jesus – somethings disclosed directly by God no less than six times in the New Testament (Mk 1:11; 9:7; Mt 3:17; 17:5; Lk 3:22; 9:35).

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

The punishment of the tenants refers to the religious leaders, and the transfer of the vineyard to others refers to the people of the new Israel.

The power of God’s promise, when we come to live it out fully, is how we can overcome our spiritual blindness. Such a life is a gift that we are free to accept when we remove the obstacle of our ego from the equation.

Are we ready to accept the revelation that God has made before us?  Just yesterday we celebrated The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  If we are to truly supplement our faith with virtue, it requires action.  This reminder was driven home in a recent talk by Pope Francis. 

To follow the path of Christ means to serve the poor and the downtrodden while not turning Christian virtues simply into ideas and humanitarian endeavors, Pope Francis said.

"In them, you touch and serve the flesh of Christ and grow in union with him, while always keeping watch so that faith does not become an ideology and charity is not reduced to philanthropy so that the church doesn't end up becoming an NGO," the pope told members of the general chapter of the Little Work of Divine Providence May 27.[i]

God offers us what we need.  It is up to us to accept this banquet and be nourished for the work ahead. Jesus and Pope Francis encourage us – once fed -- to go out and bring God's mercy to all without distinction.

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