Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes when I read the accounts of the martyrdom of the ancient Christians or the description of violence in the scriptures, I wonder were people really that cruel? Is some of this exaggerated? It is hard even to really think of the suffering and death of Jesus in terms of people actually doing the violence. And yet we are constantly reminded in the headlines of the vulnerability of the members of our human family to do the violence that assaults human life in gruesome and cruel ways. Most recently we have been reminded of specific executions by terrorists, in addition to the more widespread killings, in religious persecution, in the middle east and Africa. In our own country we are stung by individual acts of mass killings abetted by the easy access to weapons. There are also the more individual violent killings of gang warfare and other criminal acts. And we still live under the scourge of easy recourse to the destruction of innocent human life in the womb through abortion. This last one, perhaps more vaguely or diffusely viewed because the act of destruction occurs at the hands of someone else, merely doing what another said they wanted. Or the true affect which is death is muted by the enshrinement of the value of choice, as if the concept of choice as value stands apart from the consequence of choices.
I think we are all tempted to distance ourselves from these offenses against the sanctity of human life. We are repulsed by them, we consider them evil. But we are not doing them and we are not sure what we can do about them. I think a good starting point for reconsidering what we can do is to reflect on the fundamental error at stake here.
In all of these activities, to one degree or another, there is a rejection of the fact that human life is not the exclusive property of anyone of us. It is an entrustment, a gift, from God and we are simply its stewards. We are stewards of our own lives, the lives of others and the valuing of the sanctity and dignity of human life in itself. And our stewardship for life should make us especially attentive to the most vulnerable. That includes the unborn who are absolutely dependent on the hospitality and support of others. It includes those who due to some inability are deemed to be less “valuable.” It includes those approaching death who need support and encouragement in their final opportunity to affirm that God is the Lord of their life.
The Gospel today uses the image of stewardship of a vineyard to describe the rejection of God’s relationship with His people. It is most apt parable and image. In the parable it is the tenants and workers, the stewards of the vineyard, who are at fault. The owner gives them the opportunity of productive work in the vineyard. With that work comes the means to live and enjoy life. Yet rather than gratefully turning over the fruit of theie work to the owner for their benefit and his, they attack his representatives and finally they kill his son. As in other parables Jesus was directly addressed the historical reality of His own people whose ancestors were hostile to the prophets and who were on their way to rejecting Him, the Son of God, to the point that He would suffer and die.
The parable refers most specifically to the rejection of a spiritual stewardship; that is a rejection of the gift of the special relationship with God that defined Judaism. The gift of being redeemed, members of the Body of Christ, the adopted children of God is what has replaced the election of Judaism. And so we are cautioned to embrace, as stewards, our privileged relationship of union with God in Jesus Christ and membership in His Church. We are to gratefully enrich our spiritual gifts and use them for God’s honor and glory and the building up of His kingdom. However this spiritual entrustment is only a refinement or an enrichment of the more fundamental stewardship we have over life itself. Even before we were elected and reborn in baptism we came into this world as God’s creation in His image. And the spiritual entrustment of redemption and grace should be the source of greater knowledge and grace to be the best stewards possible of the fundamental and natural gift of human life.
In being created, even before the election of Judaism and the rebirth of Christianity, as Genesis reminds us, we were given life and placed in a garden which our initial forebears were charged to tend. Even those who claim not to believe were created by God in His image, and thus have planted deep within them a connection to the divine and the call to stewardship.
It is separation from God through sin, original and otherwise, that impedes what should be the natural link to God. So we gratefully treasure the gift of God’s revelation and grace to overcome the impediments to knowledge and right action.
So what are we to do, especially during this month that the Church dedicates in a special way to respect for the gift of human life? First, in the midst of our efforts of ongoing conversion we seek to deepen our knowledge about what the Church teaches us about the gift of life, the ways the respect for life may be violated and the things we can and must do to affirm life. If there is a particular teaching within the broad spectrum of human life that is problematic for us we should focus on that, beyond the catechism to the writers who help understanding of the teaching. In our prayer we literally ask God to show us a particular avenue wherein we can help restore respect for human life especially among those who haven’t heard God’s call for them to be humble stewards of life. Then we pray especially for the gifts of wisdom and courage. That is wisdom to discern what we ought to do and when and the courage to do it.