As I begin my homily, I ask you to please use your memory and your imagination.
Remember a time, or imagine, that you went to the Farmer’s Market or a fruit stand in Eastern Washington and you spent time buying your favorite fruits. For me it would be cherries, peaches, apricots and raspberries.
Call to mind picking up the fruit, looking at its color, holding and feeling its texture, breathing in is intoxicating sweetness. Your mouth begins to water and you can almost taste its goodness.
Now think of this: you have a beautiful, plump grape in your hand. You feel its coolness and you place it into your mouth. Your sense the firmness of its skin as your teeth begin to close on it. The side of your tongue feels the skin as it stretches, then splits and the juice and inner pulp of the fruit squishes across the top of your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
You feel your salivary glands release in anticipation of tasting, enjoying and relishing this gift of God’s creation for the enjoyment and nourishment of your body.
Then, to your shock and amazement, your eyes, which have been closed in ecstatic anticipation, suddenly burst wide open as your brain communicates to you that this object in your mouth is sour and bitter and suddenly you race to the sink and spit it out in utter disgust. YUK!
As you continue to spit out the last vestiges of foreign object, you take a glass of water and rinse out your mouth in hopes of eliminating the taste.
Now hold that image in your mind as I reflect with you on our readings and the state of our nation.
The inspired Word of God, Sacred Scripture, we believe as Catholics reveals the truth that God wants to share with us. Hence, Sacred Scripture will not be always nice and sweet or politically correct. They will at times have a sharp edge, cutting deep into our conscience and consciousness, make us feel uncomfortable and even ruthlessly convict us of our sin.
Our reading from Isaiah is an allegory, that is, an image and story that has a hidden or deeper meaning. It is about a friend who worked hard, diligently and overtime in planting a vineyard. This friend put his heart and soul into this vineyard, longing for an abundant harvest of sweet grapes that would eventually be turned into delicious, fine wine.
This friend began with a fertile hillside. He spaded the earth, cleared it of stones and planted the choicest vine. Once done, he built a watchtower so as to keep the birds of eating the grapes and hewed out a wine press in anticipation of fermenting fine wine.
This friend is God. The vineyard is the people of Israel, God’s beloved ones whom God had chosen, cared for, freed from slavery, entered into covenant with, fed with manna and quail in the desert and delivered them into a land flowing with milk and honey, the “promised land.” The friend was ever faithful.
But the vineyard yielded wild, sour and bitter grapes. We can feel the heartbreak, disappoint and discouragement of God, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?”
Israel kept turning away, falling into idolatry and following false gods, wanting to be like other nations, longing for the “flesh pots of Egypt.” They did not want to live their vocation, to be different than other nations, to be a light to other nations.
The consequence of their sin, according to Isaiah the prophet, would be that they would be trampled, made a ruin and overgrown with thrones and briars. There would be no rain and they would become arid, dry and lifeless.
The parallel to the Gospel is striking. When Jesus told this parable, the chief priests and elders would have immediately made the connection with our first reading. They knew that Jesus was telling them and the people of their day that they were acting much like Israel of old and that a similar fate would befall them. The more the tenants wanted to usurp the role of the landowner, the worse would be the consequences.
What I say next, I own as my own reflections. They are my struggling with trying to understand and interpret these scriptures in light of the cultural landscape of our day. You may disagree with me, be upset with me and have the opinion that I should not preach this. Know that I am open to your respectful feedback.
My dear sisters and brothers, fellow disciples and followers of Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe and Savior of all the world, I believe that we are struggling as a Church and a nation with a modern day idolatry of making ourselves gods and bowing down to the golden calves of secularism, relativism, consumerism, individualism and isolation.
As Catholics, we have to struggle mightily to push back against the tide of indifference to the values and teachings of the Catholic Church and the founding values of our Constitution.
We have been so blessed as a nation. We have achieved great goals and have accomplished so much. Yet we seem to be squandering the inheritance of self-sacrifice that has so often rescued us from self-centered ambition, greed and indifference to the poor and needy that has kept us from becoming an oligarchy of the rich and famous.
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, you MUST advocate for the faith life and eternal life of your family.
You must be the ones who cultivate your domestic church at home each day.
You must be the ones who instill a strong Catholic identity in your marriages and your families.
You must be the ones who teach and model Catholic virtues of love, peace, justice, chastity, respect of the other and the dignity of every human life – born and unborn in the womb.
You must be the ones who Make All Sundays Sacred for your families and not give into the pressure of making soccer, the Seahawks, ballet, track, elite sports or anything else first before God.
Without the gift our Catholic faith heritage, without us being “different” from the other nations, the mainstream onslaught of our culture, the senseless tragedies that scar our national landscape will continue to expand and erode the promise of a harvest for our children and grand-children. We will end up harvesting only wild, sour grapes.
We most likely will never know what motivated Stephen Paddock to mass murder and mayhem in Las Vegas last Sunday night. Though I have not followed the story closely or done much research, I have not read anything about faith, religion or church in his background. What I did read was mostly about his financial success and gambling habits. In many ways, he was living an “American dream.”
St. John Paul II, who survived the horror and rule of Nazism, the occupation and oppression of the Soviet Union in his homeland, Poland, and who was an astute observer of culture, history and the human person, unmasked much of modern culture and named it a “Culture of Death.” Thus, he tirelessly advocated for the dignity of the human person, upholding the divine life within each human soul.
And yet, even as he saw the horror of the human condition, he was a man of great hope and vision. It was he who over and over again reminded us, “Do not be afraid.”
He echoed St. Paul’s words to us today:
“Brothers and sisters, have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, we are sinners, but God never gives up on us. Yes, we experience the effects of our sin and failings, yet God is the one who calls us back, who feeds us with Holy Eucharist and forgives us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As Pope Francis so often reminds us, we must be missionaries of mercy and hope. We must be heralds of Good News. We must be bearers of the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must place God first in all things in a world that worships false gods.
We are called to be different, to be God’s Good News today. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to do so?