Saturday, October 03, 2020

Subtle Warnings

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 79(80):9,12-16,19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

Picture: cc Scott Davidson

My dear friends, do you know what a warning looks and sounds like? Actually, warnings come in many different forms. Some are very obvious. Such as a noisy fire alarm, or a piercing police siren, or a stern letter from an angry boss. They leave no room for doubt as to what we need to do. Escape the fire. Make way for the police car. Satisfy the boss. But other warnings are more subtle. Such as an occasional tightness in the chest, or a child who seems much quieter than usual, or more frequent and stronger hurricanes. These warnings are sometimes easier to ignore.

The same might be said about the warnings in our readings today. They too are easy for us to miss, if we don’t pay close enough attention. They take the apparently harmless form of a story about a vineyard. In the first telling of the story, the focus is on a particular society, a people, the House of Israel and Judah. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt to safety in the Promised Land, where they were meant to live in such a way as to bear witness to the justice and integrity of God. Instead, they oppressed the poor and vulnerable in their midst. And, as a result, disaster befalls them.

The second telling of the story also involves a vineyard, but the focus is different. Not the people as a whole, but the leaders, the chief priests and elders. Whereas good leaders are supposed to bring their followers closer to God, these men are concerned only about furthering their own interests, increasing their own popularity and power. As a result, they are eventually replaced.

Harmless though it may seem, this story serves as a crucial reminder to us of how a society and its leaders ought to conduct themselves. How we ought to relate to one another. How we ought to relate to the poor and vulnerable, including Mother Earth. How we ought to relate to God. They warn us of the dire consequences of falling short of such right relationship. And, subtle though it may be, this biblical warning still finds echoes in our world today. For example, hasn’t the current experience of Covid-19 highlighted the pitiful plight of the poor and vulnerable, even in a nation as affluent and efficient as our own?

Thankfully, more than just warnings, the Mass texts also offer us guidance for how to respond. We see this especially in the advice that Paul offers the Philippians. In times of trouble, they are told to first bring their concerns to God in prayer and thanksgiving. We may consider, for example, the prayer we offered at the start of this Mass, when we asked God to pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask. The Philippians are also told to fill their minds with noble thoughts, and their hands with charitable deeds. So prayer and thanksgiving, contemplation and action. This is Paul's recipe for finding the peace of God and the God of peace in a chaotic world.

Sisters and brothers, if it is true that our readings present us with a subtle but urgent warning, then what must we do to better heed the Lord’s call to conversion today?

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