Homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2008
Holidays are good. Just when you think that life is overwhelming you a change can help restore one's vision and energy. So it was also good to take part in the Archdiocesan In-service program for priests concerning the proposed new Missal for the Liturgy this week. Priests have taken a battering over the past few decades from all sides. You might wonder that morale amongst the clergy is not a lot worse than it is. But we have much to be thankful for in the generosity and dedication of so many priests who have weathered the recent storms. That alone gives me confidence. Confidence, also, to know that what we have been doing in our Archdiocese has shown leadership for the Church in many ways not least of all in the liturgy.
It was quoted to us during the week that the Cardinal of Westminster said that "the future of the liturgy is the future of the Church". That is, unless our worship is genuine then nothing else we do will have much point. Unless our worship takes us beyond the walls of the Church to discover our mission in the world then the Church has no future, let alone no priests. So the message from our In-service was that it is time to take a new look at our liturgy particularly how it calls us to mission.
A telling line from John Paul II in 2005 sums it up:
"We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ (cf. Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged." John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine, #28, 2005.
Take note of that. Whatever the limitations of how well or how badly we do things together we should never forget that it is love above all that is the criterion. What of this love? Our readings today tell us much.
Jesus takes up the vineyard image of Isaiah. Isaiah gives us what he calls a love song. Basically a love song by God for his vineyard, the people of Judah. This vineyard did not produce grapes. That is, Judah did not produce justice and righteousness only bloodshed and injustice. So God let it go to ruin to shock the people into repentance. As usual Jesus extends the image in a different direction. This time there are tenants put in charge of the vineyard. It is clear that these are meant to be the religious leaders of Israel. However, they forgot they were tenants and regarded the vineyard as their own to lord it over. They forgot that it is God's people they are looking after. So they throw out the slaves sent to get the harvest. They even kill the landowner's son. Again this is clearly meant to refer to Jesus himself.
All the details of the events that take place in the parable are extreme to make the point. Jesus is prepared to die for love of God's people. However, we should not be too comfortable thinking that we are the people that God has now given the Kingdom to, rather than the people of Israel. The parable is directed at the religious leaders of the time not the Jewish people as a whole. It speaks to us today no less.
What then of our love? We have made great efforts to focus over the years on being a hospitable and welcoming Parish. We have done great things. Our new Community Centre is an expression of that. It is but the beginning of love of course. The real challenge of the Eucharist is how willing are we to die for each other? Does our love extent that far? The Eucharist is not just about Jesus sacrifice. It is about ours as well. Would we be willing to die for anyone? Our children? A spouse? A total stranger? The person next to you? Because that is the extent to which Christian love is open. It does not count the cost.
So we are the Body of Christ giving ourselves up with Jesus for love of God and each other. The daily sacrifices we make in the course of love are inseparable from that of Jesus. The priest invites us at the start of the Eucharistic prayer: "Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father." It is this love to which we say "Amen" at communion.