I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not but, recently, in our country and around the world, there is a push for what has been called “cancel culture.” Don’t you just love how the media labels things? Anyways, this whole cancel culture thing is really kind of scary and utterly ridiculous. It’s honestly like watching a bunch of 6-year-old children on the playground arguing.
“You’re not playing the game right.”
“Nuh-uh, you’re not playing the game right.”
“I don’t want to play with you anymore.”
“I don’t want to play with you anymore.”
“You’re mean and I don’t want to be around you.”
“You’re mean and I don’t want to be around you!”
“I’m taking my toys and going home because you’re not my friend anymore.”
“Nuh-uh, I’m taking my toys and going home because you’re not my friend anymore!”
I mean, really, isn’t this was it mostly sounds like? What a bunch of weak people we’ve become. We can no longer have a disagreement with each other without trying to completely humiliate and destroy one another and we act like, if we can just pretend like it never happened, all the bad things people do will just go away. It’s silly. This goes for all ends of the political spectrum. But, sadly, we see this in our own lives, don’t we? I mean, if we’re being honest with ourselves. I heard a priest preach a homily about something like this recently and it got me thinking and digging into Holy Scripture.
I think I have a solution to this whole problem. Let’s cancel ourselves.
Seriously, let’s cancel ourselves. Before you get all triggered, let me explain what I mean. As a race (the human race), we have gotten really full of ourselves. Our hubris is at an all time high, I feel like. I could be wrong. Humans have been pretty full of themselves for a long time. Maybe I’m just seeing it more because I’m paying attention or because this is the era of history in which I currently live.
We could use a strong dose of humility in our world today. But let’s not be too quick to just say, “Oh the world is so sick, and those people are so whatever.” In truth, it’s not just the world that is suffering from pride or the people you disagree with or don’t like. It’s us too. We could use a strong dose of humility in our own hearts as well. We could certainly use a big slice of humble pie in the Church today.
I dare say that, if the world is ever to value humility, the Church must illustrate it and live it first. Sadly, even in the Church today and indeed in our own hearts, self reigns. I mean, if we’re being honest. Unless I’m the only one…
If we truly understood who we really are and would spend more time praying and confessing our own sins, we’d have a lot less time to be prideful. I want us to consider a text on this one. St. Paul, who was perhaps the greatest missionary and theological mind that has ever lived, knew a thing or two about pride. And, he knew how poisonous it is to life in the Spirit. Consider that he called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). So, in light of our discussion about pride, let’s consider part of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church.
We find, in Colossians 3:1-17 the following,
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
St. Paul starts off by saying if then you were raised with Christ; this is important. If you’ve not been raised with Christ or don’t know what I’m talking about, I urge you to go and find the nearest priest or pastor and ask them what it means to be in Christ. He tells us to set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth. I want to be clear here. St. Paul is not talking about stuff. There is nothing wrong with stuff, per se. The problem is that our minds and hearts get attached to the stuff of this world and we lose our eternal perspective. You and I will live forever, body and soul. The only question is, will we live forever under the blessed gaze of our Lord Jesus in His presence or will we live forever in Hell. This stuff that you’re so attached to now and that attracts so much of your attention will one day be gone. But you will live forever. Choose wisely.
Then he tells us why. He tells us that we are dead. If you are in Christ, the old man is literally dead and your life, my life is hidden in Christ. If nothing else will kill pride (well, should kill pride), meditate on that fact. The only reason you and I have life is because of Christ. The truth about who we are apart from Christ should keep us humble. But who we are in Christ kills self. The only confidence we can have is in the grace of God given to us in our Lord Jesus.
Verse 5, St. Paul says it flat out, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth.” That is aggressive. If we are honest with ourselves, the reason we suffer from pride is because we want to. We don’t want to put our flesh and our desires to death. We are quite comfortable with ourselves.
Therein lies the problem.
We would rather have our own idea of comfort here than put ourselves to death in order to live in and with Christ.
Brothers and sisters, we will not progress in our spiritual lives unless we cancel ourselves. Unless we put to death our own selfishness and pride, Christ cannot reign in our hearts. Put on tender mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forgiveness, and love. Let the peace of God rule in our hearts and the word of Christ dwell in us richly. Give glory to God alone for who He is making you in Christ Jesus!
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
The gift of the vineyard
Education is a good thing. Theological education is a really good thing. But I gotta be honest. I think that, sometimes, too much theological education can be damaging. Here’s what I mean by that.
Those of us who have studied theology extensively tend to be very academic in our approach to biblical texts. Or maybe it’s just me. But an overemphasis on the academic study of Holy Scripture can, I think, also cause us not to see some really beautiful things in the Scriptures or even make our faith more about reason than the staggering beauty of who God is and what He has done in and through the Son.
I say all that to say that this week’s readings, for me, became too academic initially. I began to study these texts to prepare this weekly blog. I was meditating on these texts, trying to find that thing that I could pull out of the texts to blow theological minds. I was, frankly, becoming frustrated and this was feeling like a dry exercise.
And then, thanks be to God, the Spirit opened my heart to see one thing in these readings.
I have been on a really emotional journey recently. As I have converted to the Catholic Church, I have experienced a range of emotions. And I have been grateful for the experiences! I had begun to feel numb and like I was just going through the motions. But recently, I was reading and listening to a podcast about St. Augustine.
And my heart was awakened in a wonderful way. Part of the brilliance, in my opinion, of St. Augustine was his ability to be so very emotive about the heart and its love for beauty and how that draws us to God, who is Himself beautiful and the source of all beauty.
And that’s what I see in this week’s readings.
Beauty that aches with meaning. Beauty that causes my heart to soar and weep simultaneously.
Let me explain and maybe you’ll see it as well.
Let me just say from the jump that there a many references to bearing fruit in this week’s readings. We can have that conversation if you want. I think every serious reader of Holy Scripture and every serious Christian will agree that our lives should bear the fruits of repentance (thank you, St. John the Baptist). We need to bear fruit in keeping with our profession of Jesus as the crucified and raised Messiah.
But I want us to focus on something else, aside from our obligation to bear fruit.
I want us to focus on the imagery we see in our readings.
Look at Isaiah 5:1-7. I love how the ESV translates this (vs 1-4),
“Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?”
Look at this verbiage! Let me sing for my beloved…immediately we are shown the tenderness of this text. My beloved is not something you just call everyone but is a tender expression of love. And consider how the Beloved One cares for this vineyard. It sits on a fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones. He planted it with the choicest of vines, built a watchtower in it to protect it and hewed out a wine vat so that the fruit of the vineyard would be joy and gladness to the hearts of men!
Consider the loving care of the One who planted the vineyard and praise the planter for His mercy and loving care!
Look at the Psalm reading/chant for today, Psalm 80:9,12,13-16,19-20.
Here we see that the vineyard is a people. Now the loving care of the Isaiah text comes into focus. Now we see even more the tenderness of the care of the Beloved One who owns and plants the vineyard, who has transplanted it from a place of darkness and slavery to a place of freedom and plenty!
Our gospel text today is from St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 21:33-43.
Jesus takes the Isaiah text and applies it directly to Himself (if you’ve ever wondered how to interpret OT texts in light of Jesus, read this parable). Again we see that all the activity of planting the vineyard and caring for it is at the behest of the landowner. The vines didn’t plant themselves. Rather, the owner (God the Father) in his benevolence has given life. He has chosen to plant the vines and care for them. He has sent servants (prophets) to do His bidding but the tenants that God gave the vineyard to (the people of Israel…and us) abused them. They failed to comply with the messengers sent by God.
So then, joy of all joys, mystery of mysteries, beauty of all beauty, the landowner (God) sent His Son. Did they, do we welcome the Son? Have we given Him his just dues, the respect and honor He deserves? Or have we, like the tenants of the parable, thrown Him out of a vineyard that wasn’t even ours and murdered him?
Oh Church, we need to see not only the great sadness of our texts today but the great joy and beauty as well!
In His great mercy, our Father has given us all we could dare to dream or ask for. He has given us the very vineyard of His love and care for us. He has given us the wine of salvation to drink freely of! He has cared for us, His vineyard; He has given us all that we have. And He has sent His Son for our redemption! How can we not see and taste and feel this great joy granted to us by our kind Father who has sent for us His Son, so that we may again be the fruitful vineyard of the One who planted?
Let us rejoice in the beautiful and sacrificial love of our Father who has given us the Son!
Thanks be to God!