27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Installation of Fr. Josh Laws as Pastor
Catholic Community of South Baltimore
October 4, 2020
“How To” – “How Not To”
Many years ago, I read Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic on human relations, entitled, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I found that book so enlightening that I developed a taste for similar books, books that claim to help the reader navigate successfully the choppy waters of life. Not surprisingly, some of those books included chapters that warn the reader against what not to do – dangers and pitfalls to be avoided in human relations. One such chapter was entitled, “Don’t Let This Happen to You”.
That is a good title for the parable in today’s Gospel: ‘don’t let this happen to you!’ Originally, Jesus directed his parable to the leaders of the people of Israel. He likened Israel to a vineyard which God the Father had carefully planted, and leased to tenants, in the first place, to the chief priests and elders. When the Owner of the vineyard tried to collect his share of the produce, namely, authentic worship, contrite hearts, and the works of justice, the tenants reacted very badly indeed. They mistreated the Owner’s messengers, that is, the prophets, and when the Owner sent them his son, they killed him. Jesus then asked the leaders what should happen to those wicked tenants. Ironically, they answered that those tenants deserved severe punishment. However, when it dawned on them that Jesus “was speaking about them”, they were, to put it mildly, none too pleased!
Speaking of Us
But Jesus wasn’t simply speaking to the leaders of his day. In fact, Jesus addresses his parable to us, 21st century Catholics, living, working, and worshipping in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is warning us: “Don’t let this happen to you!” In other words, we must not repeat in our times and in our lives the folly of those tenants who rejected the prophets and even the Son of God. Let us not say, “It can’t happen to us!” for, it can and does happen in every generation.
With that in mind, let us take a second look at Jesus’ parable. For, we see that God the Father has extended his vineyard, the Church, to every land, language, people, and nation. Just as a vintner carefully plants vines and goes to great lengths to create the conditions for their growth and fruitfulness, so too, God the Father has endowed the Church with the means of salvation: the Word of God; the Mass and the Sacraments; sound moral teaching; the grace we need to lead lives of prayer, holiness, and service. What’s more, God has leased his Church to its leaders and to its members … No matter what our vocation or role may be, no matter how talented we are, we are not the owners of the Church but tenants. It is God’s Church, not ours!
So it is that Jesus’ parable stands as a warning to us, to you and me. Just as of old, God sent the prophets and they were rejected, so too we can easily reject, ignore, or rationalize away those parts of God’s Word and the Church’s teaching we’d rather not deal with … thus failing to bear the good fruit of holiness and love that God the Father expects. Just as of old, God sent his Son into the world where he met with rejection, so too we can claim to be Christians, but as a practical matter, reject his Gospel when it interferes with our own priorities and plans, and ignore Jesus when he comes among us in Word and Sacrament in the Eucharist. Almost thoughtlessly, we can tear down the Church God has given us through scandal, through the divisions we create, or through our lack of participation. Yes, in this parable, Jesus is warning us, “Don’t let this happen to you!”
Flipping the Parable
But just suppose that we would take a third look at Jesus’ parable, this time imagining what it would say to us if we were to reverse it. In other words, what if we, present-day tenants of God’s vineyard here in So. Balto. made a common and conscious commitment to conduct ourselves in a manner that is the exact reverse of the tenants in today’s Gospel? Instead of setting ourselves up in opposition to the Owner of the Vineyard, what happens when we lend him our full and undivided attention and cooperation? What, then, would the future of this Catholic community look like?
For one thing, we would be grateful to God the Father for giving us the Church. We would take our place joyfully in the Church as the Father’s adopted children and as members of the Body of Christ. Through Christ, we would give God thanks and praise for loving us so much that he invited us to share in the work of tending the vine of his heavenly Kingdom. Living differently than the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel, we would welcome the prophetic word, even when it upsets us and overturns our plans. Above all else, we would welcome the Incarnate Son of God whom the Father sends into our midst in the power of the Holy Spirit whenever the Eucharist and the Sacraments are celebrated. Instead of being wholly absorbed in our personal lives, we’d strive every week to come to Mass bearing the fruits of our Gospel labors, and offering those fruits to God in union with Jesus’ self-offering on the Cross. We would withhold nothing, confident that if we give God everything, he will lavish blessings upon us, beyond imagining.
Actually, under Fr. Josh’s leadership, first as administrator and now as pastor, you have in fact taken up the work of reversing Jesus’ parable with renewed energy. In spite of the restrictions which the pandemic has imposed, you have come together as co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard and you have decided to focus on three things in the coming year:
First, the deepening of your faith, including more opportunities for prayer, for Eucharistic Adoration, small prayer groups, prayer partners, mission trips, and enhanced youth ministry opportunities.
Second, the deepening of friendships, very much in line with a new letter that the Holy Father issued today on human solidarity, if you will, social friendship. Accordingly, in the year ahead, you are planning sessions of Theology on Tap, church dinners, coffee and conversation, welcoming new parishioners more intentionally, creating greater support for young families, including those having a child baptized, and even a community garden, very much in line with the imagery of the parable!
Third, you are seeking to deepen the impact of this So. Balto. Catholic Community, going beyond the walls of your churches into the neighborhoods, connecting with area schools, getting involved in prison ministry, serving the needs of the homeless and building friendships with them, and reaching out ecumenically to pray for victims of violence in the City.
It seems to me the Owner of the Vineyard would be very pleased with all of this! And I am confident that these efforts, begun in God’s grace, will bear the good fruit described for us today in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, where he speaks of that which is true, honorable, just, pure, gracious, beautiful, excellent and praiseworthy, the luminous qualities that enable you to bear convincing witness to the Risen Christ! This is how you lift high the Cross of Christ in So. Baltimore! This is how you lift high the Star of Evangelization for fellow travelers! And so, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Good Counsel, may your service, Fr. Josh, to the Catholic Community of South Baltimore be a great blessing for your parish family, for the whole community, and indeed for the entire Archdiocese of Baltimore … and may God bless you and keep you always in his love!