Sunday, October 05, 2014

Healing Steps

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment that you haven’t been feeling too well. You don’t know what exactly is the matter. But something just doesn’t feel right. You’re experiencing symptoms of some sort. Maybe it’s a headache. Or tiredness. Or insomnia. Something like that. Something that’s bearable. But also serious enough to make you worry. So, after suffering in silence for a while, you finally pluck up your courage and go to see a doctor. What can the doctor do for you?

I’m not a doctor. But speaking from a lay person’s perspective, three things come to mind. The first is, of course, diagnosis. The doctor figures out what, if anything, is wrong with you. Then, once this is determined, the doctor goes on to prescribe a course of treatment. And, if the treatment works, a good doctor may also offer you some advice for prevention. For avoiding such illnesses in the future.

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Three important steps by which we are healed. Healed not just of physical ailments. But also spiritual ones as well. Isn’t this what’s happening in our readings today? Isn’t this what the stories of the vineyard are really about? As we’re told in the first reading and the response to the psalm, the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. And something is wrong with the vineyard of the Lord. With God’s people. She’s experiencing certain worrying symptoms. Signs of an illness. What are these signs? And what is God’s diagnosis?

In the first reading, the problem is one of production. The vineyard is producing bad fruit. Despite all the owner’s efforts at cultivating good domesticated grapes, the vineyard produces sour wild grapes instead. In her life as a people, God expects Israel to produce the good domesticated fruit of justice and integrity. Of care and concern for the poor and the weak. The needy and the lonely. To be a society where everyone is adequately provided for. But Israel refuses to be domesticated. She prefers to grow wild. To live by the law of the wild. Survival of the fittest. Everyone looking only to his or her own interests. As a result, Israel produces the tragically sour fruit of bloodshed and distress. Of pain and suffering.

In the gospel, the problem is not just one of production. But also of management. If the vineyard is not producing the good fruit that’s expected of it, it’s because it’s being managed by greedy and dishonest tenants. People who live by the law of the wild. People unwilling to work for another. People who misappropriate the vineyard’s produce. People who scheme to snatch the vineyard itself away from its owner. People willing even to commit murder, just to satisfy their own selfish ambitions.

Sisters and brothers, I’m not sure how you feel when you listen to this diagnosis. But I can’t help wondering if it doesn’t also apply to me. To my life. Both as an individual and as part of a community. A church. A society. A world. Isn’t my life also meant to be a vineyard of the Lord? In everything that I do–at home or at work, in church or in the streets–am I not also supposed to be producing the good fruit of justice and integrity. Of care for the weak and the needy? Doesn’t my life also belong to God?

And yet, how willingly do I submit my life to God’s direction? How often do I prefer instead to run wild? To do only what I want to do? How often do I manage my own life as though it belonged only to me? And not to God? Consciously or unconsciously, how often do I misappropriate the glory and honour that is due to God? Just to puff up my own ego? To feed my own ambition? And doesn’t all this self-centredness cause suffering of some kind? Perhaps, at times, even bloodshed and distress? And isn’t this why, in my more lucid moments, I myself feel like something is wrong, or out of place? Like I need help, and healing?

Which makes it all the more important that we carefully consider the treatment that God prescribes for his problematic vineyard. His wayward people. In the first reading, because the vineyard resists God’s efforts at domesticating it, God decides to abandon it to the wilderness. To tear down the protective wall that God had built around it. To let it face the dangers of living in the wild. The aim is, of course, to lead the vineyard to a change of heart. To entice it to turn back to God. To finally submit itself to God’s management. Not unlike how the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) finally decides to return to his father. To live in his father’s house.

A new management is also what Jesus prescribes in the gospel. Since the religious leaders have proven themselves greedy and corrupt, God will replace them with new leaders. People who build their lives not on the ambition of the chief priests and Pharisees. But on the love of Christ. So that the stone rejected by the builders becomes the foundation stone of God’s people.

Sisters and brothers, isn’t this prescription also applicable to us? To me? Perhaps not all the time. But at least sometimes. Sometimes, when I experience trials and difficulties in my life, could it be that God is allowing me to experience the wilderness? But only with the aim of leading me to a change of heart? Could it be that God is inviting me to finally turn over the management of my life into God’s infinitely more capable hands? Into the hands of Christ? The same hands that loved me enough to be nailed to the wood of the Cross? Could it be that it is only when I do this–when I turn over the management of my life to Christ–that I will finally begin to bear the fruit I am meant to bear? Justice and integrity. Healing and wholeness.

But that’s not all, sisters and brothers. Beyond diagnosis and treatment, there is also prevention. Even after being healed, what can I do to avoid illness? To stay healthy? In the second reading, St. Paul suggests three things. The first is prayer. There is no need to worry, Paul writes, but if there is anything you need, pray for it. Much like how going for routine medical check-ups can give us peace of mind. Regular prayer can allow the peace of God to guard our hearts. The second thing is a healthy diet. Not so much what we put into our stomachs, but what we allow to enter our minds and hearts. Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure… And, finally, the third thing is frequent exercise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me, Paul says, and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do… Regular prayer, a healthy diet, and frequent exercise. These are St. Paul’s suggestions for remaining in good spiritual shape.

Sisters and brothers, in the book of Exodus (15:26), the people of Israel are assured that God is the the Lord who heals them. What about us? How does God wish to heal us of our ailments? And to make us instruments of healing for others? What can we do to claim this precious healing for ourselves and for our families? For our church and for our world today?

1 comment:

  1. O Divine Healer,

    Open my heart, Lord, to let You enter in -

    Make my heart Your dwelling place and heal me Lord, of all that ails me...

    Teach me, Lord, to be a WOUNDED HEALER -

    Use me as Your instrument to heal and help others - despite my wounds and weaknesses.

    Come, Lord Jesus, come and heal me.

    I believe in You and in Your Healing Power.

    O Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.f


    Sih Ying, 5 October 2014


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