Saturday, October 29, 2011


31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass @ Rachel’s Vineyard
Repair and Maintenance
 
Readings: Malachi 1:14-2:2,8-10; Psalm 130:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9,13; Matthew 23:1-12
Picture: cc Aine D

Sisters and brothers, as you know, machines break down. And it’s usually not too difficult to tell when they do, right? All that is required is for us to pay careful attention to whether or not they’re working properly. You will know, for example, that a refrigerator is broken, if you notice that it is no longer keeping the temperature. But it’s important to notice it sooner rather than later. Otherwise, all the food in the refrigerator will spoil. If we don’t want to suffer such dire consequences, it’s important that we pay attention. We know this. We know how important it is to maintain our machines regularly. And to repair them as soon as they break down.

But it’s not just machines that break down. People do too. You’ve probably seen the shocking news report that has recently been circulating on the internet. It tells the story of little Wang Yue, the 2-year-old girl who died a few days ago in Guangdong Province, in China. She was run over by two minibuses and then left to lie bleeding in the middle of a busy street. Even though no less than eighteen people passed her by, not one stopped to lend a hand. Poor Yueyue was left helpless and groaning, until a 58-year-old woman–who was out collecting trash– took pity on her, dragged her to the side of the road, and called for help.

There’s a striking similarity, sisters and brothers, between the tragic situation of little Yueyue, and that of a refrigerator-load of food that goes bad because the machine has broken down. Just as a refrigerator is meant to keep food fresh, people are meant to have compassion on one another. To care for each other. To extend a helping hand especially to the helpless. When a refrigerator breaks, the food in it spoils. When a society malfunctions, the people in it suffer. Which only goes to show how important it is for us, not only to maintain our machines, but also to look after ourselves as well. And to quickly get ourselves repaired when we are broken. But how is it that people come to be broken in the first place? And how do we go about getting ourselves repaired? These are the questions that our Mass readings help us to answer today.

For what we find in them is a group of malfunctioning people. These are the priests, the religious leaders, of Israel. It becomes obvious to us that they are not functioning properly when we compare the effects of their ministry with those of St. Paul's. In the second reading, the apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonians of how he and his companions had ministered to them. How, like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, he and his team of missionaries had been eager to share with the people not only the Good News, but their whole lives as well. In addition, they had also worked hard to support themselves materially, so as not to be a burden on the people. As a result, the Thessalonians accepted God’s message in such a way that it became a living power in their lives.

In contrast, both in the first reading and in the gospel, the religious leaders of Israel are criticised for the bad effects of their ministry. Instead of caring for the people, instead of having compassion on them, and helping them to bear the heavy weight of daily living, these men have added to the people’s burdens, by insisting that they keep all sorts of trivial religious rules and regulations. As a result, these malfunctioning religious leaders have caused many to stumble under the weight of their misguided teaching. But, thankfully, our readings don’t just describe to us a breakdown in religious leadership. They also tell us how it comes about, and what needs to be done to repair it.

The cause of the breakdown is clear. The people of Israel believed, as we Christians do, that the goal of human life is to glorify God. But the priests in our readings have instead sought only to glorify themselves. As Jesus says in the gospel, everything they do is done to attract attention. And this concern of theirs, to have the spotlight constantly shining on themselves instead of on God, amounts to a breaking of the covenant made between God and the people. Instead of letting God be God, the religious leaders attempt to take God’s place. They have thus strayed from the way that God has marked out for them. And, as a result, instead of being a blessing to others, their ministry becomes a curse. Instead of lightening the load of others, they become a burden. In their experience, we see the truth of what Jesus says in the gospel: anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.

Fortunately, it is also in this saying of Jesus that we find the remedy. If the breakdown is caused by pride and selfishness, then the repair is brought about by humility and love. By once again–and continually–remembering that it is God alone who gives life. That it is God alone who deserves all the glory. You have only one Father, and he is in heaven. You have only one teacher, the Christ. It is only by doing this–by allowing God to once again be God–that the relationship between God and humanity can be mended. And religious leadership can once again function as it should. Helping people to lighten their loads, instead of multiplying their burdens. This mending of the broken relationship between humanity and God comes about because our Lord Jesus Christ allowed himself to be broken on the Cross. It is this sacrifice of his that we celebrate at this Eucharist.

But that’s not all. There is one other point to note. A very important point. Although, in our readings, the criticism of the priests is very sharp, it is less a condemnation than an invitation to repent. It is a caring and compassionate call, addressed to those who are broken, persuading them to allow themselves to be healed. To forsake prideful ways. And to once again experience the peace that is so beautifully described in the responsorial psalm: my heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes..... truly I have set my soul in silence and peace.... hope in the Lord both now and forever.

Sisters and brothers, I cannot say for sure, since I haven’t had the pleasure of accompanying you very much on this retreat. But my guess is that, in these days, you too have heard and responded to this invitation. That you too have been allowing what has been broken to be healed. That you too have come to experience anew what the psalmist writes about: the contentment of a little child that has just been fed, and is resting its head on its mother’s breast. Perhaps what remains to be done is to give thanks for the graces that have been received. And also to ask for the wisdom and the strength to do whatever is necessary to take better care of that which once was broken, but which has since been made whole again.

Sisters and brothers, how might we continue to nourish our relationship with God in the days ahead?



Saturday, October 22, 2011


30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Check Your Cloth!

Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 17:2-4,47,51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40
Picture: cc *vlad*

Sisters and brothers, not so long ago, I was given a brand new car to drive. It was white in colour. Being a conscientious kinda guy, and wanting to keep the car spotless for as long as I could, I implemented a rather serious plan. Every morning, before I set off for the day, I used a damp cloth to give the vehicle a good wipe. In other words, I did the very thing that is done every morning in Singapore by domestic help. I cleaned my car.

One morning, as I was performing my self-imposed domestic duty, I discovered what looked like a spot of tar on one of the doors. Thankfully, after some vigorous rubbing with my cloth, I managed to remove it. Only to find, as I continued cleaning, more such black spots on other parts of the vehicle. To my great annoyance, it seemed as though the more I cleaned, the more those cursed spots kept appearing. Then, fortunately for me, after having expended a good deal of energy–far more than usual–I finally began to see the light. You see, it wasn’t really the case that my car was covered with tar. Instead, what was happening was that the one black spot I had removed at first, had clung stubbornly to my cloth. So that, as I cleaned, I was actually transferring the tar all over. Quite ironically, my conscientious efforts were contaminating the car as much as cleaning it. In order to keep my car immaculately white, in order to remove all the black spots, what I first had to do was to check and to change my cloth.

Since that fateful morning, I’ve come to wonder whether the insight I gained while keeping my car clean, needs also to be learned by those who are trying so hard to maintain peace in our world. Why is it that, it often seems as though the more strenuous our efforts at removing the dark spots of violence and terror in our world, the more prevalent they appear to be? I’m not sure. But could it be that the reason lies as much in our chosen instruments for maintaining order, as it does in the chaotic world itself? Could it be that true peace, cannot really be won by declaring war? Even if it is a War on Terror? Could it be that, to truly clean the world, we need also to check and to change our cloths?

I am, of course, not a political scientist. And I claim no expertise in such matters. But even if the lesson gained while cleaning a car is not quite applicable to the realm of geopolitics, it certainly does appear relevant at least to the spiritual life. This is what our Mass readings remind us today. Consider the Pharisees in the gospel. Not unlike the conscientious driver of a white car, they too want to keep their religious lives clean. And their chosen instrument–their cloth of choice–is the Law. For the Pharisees, the spiritual life can only be kept spotless, if it is constantly being put in order–or polished to a shine–by the Law. To do this, effort must be expended, not only to interpret the Law, but also to enforce it. The way of the Pharisee is thus also the way of the lawyer and the policeman. And yet, it’s quite striking, isn’t it, to consider the terrible consequences of such an approach? Today the gospel tells us that the Pharisees put their question to Jesus only to disconcert him. To disrupt his peace. In their efforts to maintain order, the Pharisees attempt to disturb the One Who Alone is our Peace (Ephesians 2:14). And when their reliance on the Jewish Law fails to achieve their purpose, they will eventually resort to Roman authority. At their prompting, Pilate, the Roman governor, will condemn Jesus to death. What begins as an exercise of cleansing, ends in a scandal of contamination. They will manipulate the law to torture and murder the Prince of Peace.

In contrast, in his answer to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus offers a radically different instrument for keeping the spiritual life clean. Instead of an obsession with the Law, Jesus proposes a surrender to Love. In place of the expertise of lawyers and enforcement by policemen, Jesus models the Way of the Cross. What the Lord is telling the Pharisees is that, if they wish to be truly clean, they must first change their cloth, contaminated as it is by the tar of idolatry. They must first repent of their idolatrous worship of the Law, and return to the love of God with all their heart, and soul, and mind. It is only in this way that true peace can be attained. And not just attained, but also shared with many. Isn’t this also what St. Paul writes about in the second reading, when he reminds the Thessalonians that it is because they first broke with idolatry, and became servants of the real, living God, that their faith has spread everywhere?

And that’s not all. Even though Jesus is asked for only one commandment–the greatest–he names two. Not just love of God, but also love of neighbour. And not just any neighbour. As the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel (10:25-37) reminds us, the neighbour that most requires our attention is the one who is most in need. The one who has been robbed and left by the roadside to die. The ones who are somehow excluded by the prevailing order, as currently interpreted and enforced by the powers that be. The way of peace passes through the needy neighbour. This too is what we find in the first reading. In giving the Law to Moses, God pays particular attention to the poor, to strangers, to widows, and to orphans. Classes of people most excluded from the society of that time. In his day, Jesus himself would include tax collectors and prostitutes as well. What we find here, sisters and brothers, is scriptural support for something that the late Pope Paul VI wrote in his message for the Day of Peace in 1972: If you want peace, work for justice. If you want an orderly world or society, pay attention to those who do not yet find a place in it. Those most excluded from it. Even those who may seem to be mired in sin, or blinded by apathy.

Sisters and brothers, it is not easy to keep the spiritual life clean. We all know this from experience. What our Mass readings do for us is highlight an essential step in the process. First, continually check your cloth. And be willing to change it wherever necessary. First, ensure that your priorities are right: Love of God and needy neighbour before all else. Only then will the other things fall into place. Isn’t this an important lesson for us to learn, especially today, when some of us may be feeling especially threatened by what may look like chaos all around us? Chaos in the world. Chaos in our communities and families. Chaos even in our church. Chaos in our hearts. In the midst of all this apparent disorder, we may feel sorely tempted to respond by imposing order through the ever stricter interpretation and enforcement of laws. And yet, our readings remind us of the terrible danger that awaits those who choose such an approach. The idolatrous obsession with order and law–however well-intentioned–can lead to the eventual crucifixion of Love.

Sisters and brothers, even as we continue trying to keep the vehicle that is our spiritual life clean, perhaps it’s important that we also ask ourselves this question: Does our cloth need changing today?

Saturday, October 15, 2011


29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beyond Departments

Readings: Isaiah 45:1,4-6; Psalm 95:1,3-5,7-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
Picture: cc idi0tekue

Sisters and brothers, do you like to shop in department stores? What do you like about it? What I like about department stores are, precisely, the departments. In a well-run store, all the goods will be neatly organised and easy to locate. To buy a shirt, for example, I can just go directly to the menswear department and try one on. I don’t have to waste my time wandering around, getting lost among pots and pans or women’s attire.

Now, if you were the manager of such a store, what do you think are some of the challenges you might have to face? I think one ongoing challenge would be to ensure that the merchandise always remains well-organised. That is not easy. Especially because, as you know, we shoppers have a habit of moving things around. But although it is hard to keep everything in its proper place, this is by no means the only difficulty.

What about electricity? I don’t mean electrical appliances. These will, of course, have their own proper department. But electricity does not. Electricity is not confined to any one department. It is needed throughout the store. It’s the power that freshens the air and lights up the room. Imagine what would happen if a foolish store manager were to treat electricity as just another category of merchandise. Imagine what it would be like if s/he tried to restrict electricity to just one department in the store. That’s quite a ridiculous thought isn’t it? The rest of the building would be left in the dark! No one would shop there. The store would have to be closed. Which goes to show how important it is to appreciate the nature of the thing. Electricity is power, not a department.

Clearly, then, not everything is meant to be departmentalised. And this is an important insight that we should keep in mind as we meditate upon our Mass readings today. Especially because the conversation in the gospel between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians may at first sound like a quarrel over departments. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? It’s tempting to approach this question as a choice between two competing departments. In the store of life, space is limited. Should we have a department dedicated to God? Or one dedicated to Caesar? Should we choose politics over religion? Or vice versa?

And not just the question, but even Jesus’ answer can be misunderstood as a statement about departments. Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar–and to God what belongs to God. When we hear this, it may seem as though Jesus is telling us to keep our lives rigorously departmentalised. To maintain one section for God and one for politics. And to keep both these departments strictly separated from each other.

But to misconstrue the gospel in this way is to fall into a very dangerous trap. It is the same trap that imprisons both the Pharisees and the Herodians, even as they team up to entrap Jesus with their question. Like foolish store managers, these people fail to appreciate that God cannot be confined to a particular section in a store. And because they try to do this, they end up with a blackout. They are engulfed in darkness. They fail to recognise and to receive Jesus, the Light of the World.

We are, of course, familiar with the political doctrine that calls for a separation of church and state. We all know its value. For example, we don’t want our Archbishop to take over the job of the Prime Minister. That would be disastrous. Nor do we want the government to tell us Christians what to believe and how to worship. Again, it’s not unlike a department store. Some of the staff are trained as sales personnel. Others as electricians. You don’t want these people to confuse their roles. But, even if a store has specially trained electricians on its staff, the fact remains that electricity is needed throughout the whole store. Electricity is power, not a department. And the same can be said about God.

We see this even more clearly when we consider the rest of our scriptures for today. The first reading is set in a time towards the end of the Babylonian Exile. The Persian army has conquered Babylon. Cyrus, the Persian king, then passes a decree allowing the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland. However, although it may seem that Cyrus is the one responsible for the people’s good fortune, the prophet thinks differently. He looks beyond the rise and fall of political regimes to the powerful and providential hand of God, secretly at work behind the scenes. To the prophet, Cyrus is acting only as God’s instrument. It is God who has appointed the Persian king to set the people free. From the prophet’s point of view, then, God’s activity is not restricted only to a particular narrow domain. Instead, God is at work in all areas of life. As much in politics as in religion, God labours effectively on the people’s behalf, freshening the air and brightening their way. Like electricity in a store, God is power, not a department.

We find this to be true also for the Thessalonians in the second reading. As St. Paul reminds them, when they received the Good News, it came to them not only as words–not only as pious religious sentiments–but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction. The Word of God had a radical transforming effect on every segment of their lives. Here too, like electricity in a store, God is power, not a department.

And isn’t this an important reminder for us as well? For many of us, life is not unlike a fully stocked store. It’s filled with so many things, that we need to struggle constantly to ensure that everything has its proper place. When we are home, for example, we don’t want to allow the stresses and strains of the office to affect our interactions with our family. Nor do we want to let troublesome family issues cloud our judgment at work.

Still, as important as it is to departmentalise our lives, it’s even more important to realise that God is not a department. God is not just another thing that requires management. God is instead the divine electricity that continually freshens our earthly existence. God is that wonderworking power that guides and strengthens us on our way to eternity. If only we allow it.

For we can only benefit fully from this power when we stop restricting God to certain narrow segments of our lives. When we are willing instead to allow God to influence every aspect of our earthly existence. In the words of the responsorial psalm: in our lives we need to give the Lord glory and power, to give the Lord the glory of his name.

Sisters and brothers, in the busy shopping mall that is your life, how many departments are truly being powered by God today?

Saturday, October 08, 2011


28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Showing Up For Success

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 22:1-6; Philippians 4:12-14,19-20; Matthew 22:1-14
Picture: cc jiji

Sisters and brothers, if you were to take a close look at your own life today, would you consider yourself a success? What does success look like to you? And how, in your opinion, does one actually become truly successful? There’s a quotation, rather well-known in some circles, that is attributed to the popular American screenwriter and playwright, Woody Allen. In one of his movies, Allen is thought to have said that eighty percent of success is just showing up.

Just showing up. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Want to be a successful student? Make it a point to turn up at every class and, of course, at the exams too. Want to be a successful parent or spouse? Be sure to stick around for all family occasions and activities. Want to have a successful career? Try to be there whenever there’s an opportunity for corporate advancement and networking. If you want to be successful, show up!

And yet, we only have to think a little more deeply to see that there must be more to success than that. For one thing, there must be more to showing up than just being physically present. A student who shows up at every lesson, but spends all his class time daydreaming about his girlfriend, is not likely to go very far. Neither is a corporate executive who attends networking events only for the free food. Nor, for that matter, is a parent for whom family time means catching up on emails from work. There’s more to showing up than mere bodily presence. Also, we should not forget that, for Woody Allen, showing up is only eighty percent of success. Now that, of course, is already quite a lot. But still, eighty percent is not quite a hundred.

It’s useful to keep these considerations in mind today, because our Mass readings invite us to reflect upon what it means to be a truly successful Christian. A tried and true disciple of Christ. A legitimate and loyal citizen of the kingdom of heaven. As it is for Woody Allen, so too in the kingdom. To be truly successful, much depends upon our willingness simply to show up. To show up where? At a very mysterious place. A place that, as we will soon see, is not really a physical location. The readings describe this place in different terms. The first reading tells of a holy mountain upon which the hand of the Lord rests. The beautiful twenty-third psalm speaks of the Lord’s own house, in which we shall dwell forever and ever. And, in the gospel parable, Jesus describes a wedding hall, where the king’s son is to marry his bride. A hill, a house, and a hall. Three apparently different localities. But each one serving as the venue for an identical activity: a lavish feast, a sumptuous banquet, prepared especially for the enjoyment of the invited guests.

Sounds like such a tempting proposition. Anyone would be foolish to turn it down. And yet, as Jesus points out, so many people do. So many prefer to busy themselves with various other activities. Why? What can be so difficult about showing up at a banquet?

We receive a deeper insight into this question when we consider closely what St. Paul tells us in the second reading. Paul writes as an old and tired labourer in the Lord’s vineyard. He has poured out the best years of his life spreading the gospel in foreign lands. Now he finds himself in prison. His earthly existence hangs in a balance. He senses that his end is near. And yet, in the midst of all his trials, even as he finds his aging body clasped in cruel chains, Paul continues to enjoy a remarkable freedom of spirit. I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too, he says. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. What is Paul describing, sisters and brothers, if not a grand interior feast of freedom? A banquet held not so much in any particular physical location, as it is in the very depths of his own heart? And what does Paul’s experience tell us, if not that the extravagant banquet that God prepares for us does not really need a special exterior venue? It can be enjoyed as much on a holy mountain, as in a humble home. As much in a wedding hall, as within the walls of a dark dungeon. What matters is that we the invited guests be willing to show up. To allow ourselves to remain present to the particular circumstances in which God desires to meet us.

Obviously, this is not an easy thing to do. It’s not easy because our own particular circumstance can sometimes be very difficult. As difficult as having a body afflicted by infirmity or ridden with illness. As challenging as having a heart broken by infidelity or deep disappointment. To remain present to such circumstances takes great courage. A courage that we are neither born with, nor able to produce for ourselves. This courage is, rather, a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that each of us receives at our Baptism and Confirmation. The same Spirit that we will shortly invoke upon the gifts of Bread and Wine. And it is this same courage that we find so sorely lacking in the invited guests of the gospel today. Rather than showing up at the banquet of life, instead of facing squarely the inevitable challenges of everyday existence, these people do all they can to distract themselves with other far more trivial things.

Still, perhaps we can sympathise with their predicament. We who might succeed in dragging ourselves to Mass on a given Sunday, but still struggle, sometimes in vain, to relate our weekend worship to the concrete circumstances of our weekday lives. We, who may continue to drift from one preoccupation to another, without ever encountering the presence of the living God. The same God who continues to invite us to enjoy what St. Paul enjoyed: a grand interior feast of freedom. For this is what being a successful Christian looks like. This freedom to face life courageously and to find the living God waiting for us there. Such that even if we should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would we fear. For God is there, with crook and staff, to give us comfort.

But that’s not all. Again, as Woody Allen reminds us, showing up is only eighty percent of success. And this too is what the man in the gospel–who turned up at the banquet without a wedding garment–discovered to his great dismay. To be a truly successful Christian, it’s not enough for us just to show up. It’s not enough for us just to face life courageously. People like Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden appear to have done the same. Except that their courage led them not to carefully cultivate life, but to violently snuff it out. In contrast, we Christians are called to do as Jesus did. To expend our own lives in the loving service of the kingdom. To put on, in our everyday lives, the wedding garment that is the Body and Blood of Christ, which will, in a few short moments, be broken and pour out for us all.

Sisters and brothers, if Woody Allen is right. If it is indeed true that eighty percent of success is showing up. Then how successful as Christians are we today?

Sunday, October 02, 2011


27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Criss-Crossed Cables

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 79:9,12-16,19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43
Picture: cc Bitman

Sisters and brothers, have you ever found yourself visiting a new place–maybe a friend’s home, or a retreat house like this–and trying to switch on an electrical appliance, only to find that it does not work? When this happens, one of the first things you might do is to check to see if the device is plugged into the power socket. But, as sometimes happens, when you do this, you may find that the power cord is entangled with a whole host of other cables, such that there’s no easy way to identify which one belongs to the device you wish to use. So you set out to disentangle the cables. To find out which cable belongs to which machine. Not an easy task. What’s worse, sometimes, even after you have done this, you may still not be able to get the appliance to work. Perhaps the power cable is too short to reach the socket, and you can’t find an extension cord. Or perhaps the appliance itself is faulty. If this is the case, there is usually not much more you can do except to get help. Unless you’re an expert, you don’t want to try to fix the appliance. It doesn’t belong to you. You don’t want to risk making the thing worse than it already is. It may, of course, feel very frustrating, especially after you’ve expended so much energy in disentangling the cables. But, even so, the wise thing to do is to wait. To defer to a higher power.

A dysfunction, a disentangling, and a deference to a higher power. These are also among the key elements in our Mass readings today. Both in our first reading and the gospel we find something that is malfunctioning. This is not just any electrical appliance, but a whole nation. Something is wrong with the people of Israel. It is somehow not performing the function for which it was created. And to find out why this is so, some troubleshooting is required. In the process, it’s as though a tangled mass of power cables is unravelled.

Isn’t this what we find in the first reading and the gospel? In both these readings, the parable of the vineyard is used as a tool for discerning the source of the problem. It serves as a way to troubleshoot the breakdown. And it is quite striking, isn’t it, that although both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus make use of the same parable, they arrive at rather different conclusions?

In the first reading, the problem is with the vineyard, the people of Israel itself. In disentangling the complex cables feeding into Israel’s situation, what the prophet uncovers is essentially a production problem. The vineyard is meant to produce grapes for making good wine. But it bears sour grapes instead. The people of Israel is meant to produce justice and integrity in the sight of all the nations. But it bears bloodshed and a cry of distress instead. Rather than caring for the poor and those who are excluded by society, Israel is itself complicit in their continued oppression.

The dysfunction in the gospel is different. Here the problem is not one of production but management. The vineyard itself remains fertile, but it is being mismanaged. Worse than mismanagement, the vineyard is subjected to theft and corruption. The managers disregard the rights of the landowner. They plot to embezzle not only the fruits of the estate, but the whole vineyard itself. In like manner, the leaders of Israel–the chief priests and elders of the people, those who have been entrusted with the task of caring for the House of Israel– have chosen instead to make the people totally dependent upon the leaders themselves. In their zeal for keeping every minute detail of the Law, in their claim to be experts at interpreting the Law’s provisions, the priests and elders have kept the people from receiving and responding to the love of God their Creator. The cause of the dysfunction is clear. It’s a management problem.

However, even after having disentangled the cables, and identified the cause of the dysfunction, both the prophet in the first reading, and Jesus in the gospel, experience the frustration of not being able to do much about it. Despite their best efforts at admonishing their hearers, Israel and its leaders remain stubbornly resistant to change. The House of Israel continues to fall short of fulfilling its intended function. While the resistance of its leaders escalates to such an extent that Jesus will be made to experience the ultimate frustration: He will lay down his life as a ransom for many.

Even so, in our readings today, frustration and irritation, suffering and death do not have the last word. For, in both versions of the parable, we notice a deference to a higher power, which power then promises to intervene on behalf of the frustrated. In the first reading, the owner of the vineyard abandons it, allowing it to lie fallow, in the hopes that it will become fertile again. In the gospel, the wayward tenants are replaced with others that are more capable and obedient.

But that’s not all. Quite paradoxically, in spite of experiencing the frustration that comes from feeling themselves powerless to remedy a deeply dysfunctional situation, those who, like Isaiah and Jesus, are willing to defer to a higher power–those who acknowledge that God alone is the owner of the vineyard–receive a deep consolation. In the words of St. Paul in the second reading–words that the scripture scholars tell us were written from prison–there is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it... and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.

Sisters and brothers, as it was for the House of Israel, so too is it often the case with us. Whether in our families or in our workplaces, in our world or in our church, from time to time we encounter dysfunctional situations that stubbornly resist our best efforts. After disentangling all the confused strands that feed into it. After having uncovered the causes of the problem. We may come to see that the situation is really beyond us. For example, the world economy continues to favor the rich over the poor. In religious circles, there remains a stubborn attraction to the predictability of the Law, often at the expense of mercy for those who may be struggling. For our part, all we can do is to persevere in taking Paul’s advice, not just to pray, but also to fill your minds with everything that is true, and to keep doing all the things that we have learned from the Lord Jesus. In the hope that the God of peace, to whose power we defer, will remain with us, consoling and strengthening us, even in the midst of our frustration.

Sisters and brothers, are there any tangled power cables in your lives today?


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