by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente Missionaries
New York, October 04, 2020. | XXVII Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Isaiah 5: 1-7; Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-9; Saint Matthew 21: 33-43.
The New Testament and Christ himself use many images to show us what the Church is, or what the kingdom of heaven is. The analogies with the body, with the vineyard…and with a building are mentioned. The final part of today’s Gospel speaks of the latter.
We could say that if we want a prosperous vineyard, we need a fence or a wall and a tower… You always have to end up talking about construction.
The metaphor of the building is subtler than it seems. Firstly, it refers to each human being and secondly, to the people of Israel, in which we are represented all the privileged ones who have received the word of God.
The Gospel tells us that we are living stones. The stones in a wall cannot imagine what the other stones that -below- hold them are like. Perhaps they will never know them, but at least they must recognize that without them they could not be supported. Without the example, the teachings or even the scandal of others, we would not have a clear vision of our mission. This is how St. Peter puts it: You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1Pe 2: 5).
By saying that we are living stones, the dynamic and moldable character of our soul and character is revealed to us. We are not only shaped by our genes and by education, but by continuous interaction with many people. The most important thing is that all these interactions represent an opportunity always used by the Holy Spirit to transform and purify us.
Our lives are unfinished buildings, and everyone who passes by lays a block on the wall or adds an ornament. Many people touch us each day, in all kind of contacts, in friendships, in emails, in transient meetings…and every one of them builds something on the wall of your life, either something which will add to the adornment of your character, or something that will mar and hurt it. Everyone who comes into our presence, who speaks a word to us, who even reaches us most remotely with his influence, leaves something on our character. We can think of our character as a rock on the beach, but shaped and molded by the pressure of the waves.
We can thus imagine how difficult it is to achieve unity and peace within ourselves. In fact, it is impossible without divine help. That explains why today Christ reminds us with the parable of the tenant farmers that only He can give unity, direction and meaning to our soul and our life. He is certainly the cornerstone not only of the Church, but of our soul and our character. Therefore, when we speak of our relationship with him, we say that it is an essentially unitive prayer.
Any other kind of harmony or peace will be insufficient or even deceitful and misleading. The verse immediately following today’s Gospel, carefully dismissed by the Lectionary for its apparent cruelty, reflects how any idol, any “Tower of Babel,” any attempt to replace heaven with a purely worldly work, is doomed to failure and no future: Whoever falls on this stone, he will be broken to pieces; on whomever this stone falls, he will be ground to dust (Mt 21:44).
On the contrary, when we let ourselves be carried away by His way of loving, despite our weakness and little strength, the result is something that remains forever, like a humble but necessary stone that will be a place of peace which will be transmitted beyond our brief passage through this world. This is the promise made to us in the Second Reading: The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. This little story reflects this well:
In central Europe, many centuries ago, a cathedral was being built. One day an old man, broken with the weight of years, came and begged to be allowed to do some work on the great building. The master architect did not suppose that the old man could do any important work because of his feebleness. But to please him he gave him something to do on the vaulted roof. Day by day the old man was working there in the shadows.
One evening he was missed—did not came down—and the men found him lying beside his finished work, the sculptured face of one whom he had loved long years before. When the building was completed and people came from far and near to admire it, they found this face that was so hidden in the shadows that only once a day, when the sunlight touched it, could it be seen distinctly. But the face was so beautiful that men waited for the sight of it when the light fell upon it, and then said: This is the noblest work in all the cathedral. Love created this.
Our love should be so Christ-like that when our task is finished (and perhaps before), the world will see that we have put the face of the Master on in the little stone that each of us is. We do not always realize it, but God uses us to transmit his peace. That is why St. Paul dares to say to the Philippians today: Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
We are invited to grow sweet, friendly, respectful traits before everyone. In fact, one of the manifestations of the Spirit of the Gospel, of the way we build our prayer (and therefore our relationship with others) is the development of new dimensions of love in our behavior. This is the essential contents of the gift of piety. When our prayer clearly results in new dimensions of love, faith, joy, and blessings to others, we must conclude that this is what the Lord has done and offer God our praise. You shall know them by their fruits (Mt 7:20).
This parable shows us an aspect of divine justice that can go unnoticed. At the end of his exposition, Jesus asks those who listen to him for their opinion. The answer is in line with the justice of the world: The owner of the vineyard will put those wretched men to a wretched death. But Christ reveals to us that the desire of our heavenly Father is not to condemn anyone, but to bring to fulfillment his plan of salvation, even though many of us have refused to collaborate in the way he asked. Thus, he concludes: The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. The good news is that, despite all our refusals, in the end God always finds the way to achieve his purpose and to obtain the good fruit he wants.
If true unity in our soul is a colossal task, suitable only for the Holy Spirit, then unity among us is not simpler. In families, among social groups, in religious communities, or among nations, the most abundant and easily seen fruit is… division.
A man named Miller who, new in town, went to the church. Everyone greets him like a long lost friend. There is an air of warmth and welcome. Then they reach the time of receiving communion. All of a sudden, chaos breaks out. Half the congregation sing. Half remain silent. The half who sing start shouting at the others, “Ignorant! Don’t you know that after receiving communion you have to give thanks with a chant?” The other half shout back, “Heretics! Did no one ever teach you that after receiving communion you have to pray in recollection and silence?” Eventually the noise subsides and the service ends in peace. The same thing happens the next week, and the next, until Miller can stand it no longer.
He went to the nearby town, where an elderly, peaceful and educated parish priest lives who asks Miller what he can do for him. Miller says, “Father I need guidance on a matter of liturgy. Tell me, when it comes to receiving communion, do we have to sing?” The priest thinks, strokes his beard, shakes his head and says, “No, that is not the tradition.” “In that case, says Miller, after receiving communion, do we have to keep absolute silence?” “No,” says the priest, “that is not the tradition.” “Father,” says Miller, ” you have to help me here. In my church, half the congregation sing, half keep silence, and they start shouting at one another.” The priest smiles, nods and says, “Yes! That is the tradition.”
No matter how hard we try, genuine unity is not achieved through agreement between the parties, sincere dialogue or tons of patience. Either it is a superficial and formal unity, or it soon collapses. That is why Jesus presents himself as the cornerstone, as the solution that had been ignored or, worse, despised by the builders.
The cornerstone of a structure ties two separate parts of a building together. The analogy of the cornerstone is extremely appropriate:
* It is a stone (with our very nature), someone like all of us.
* It is among us; it is not an external element to our life, it is part of the building.
* It allows us to understand that we are complementary; it is not just another option: without the support of one wall, the other collapses.
* The cornerstone is today really rejected by us, by you and by me. We do not fully believe in his authority, that he has something to say to us at every moment. Just as the cornerstone bears the weight and the tensions of a construction, so we must place our concerns in Christ, certain that we will have an answer on how to speak, how to be silent and how to approach our neighbor. Otherwise, we will crack under pressure. If I want to have an intimate relationship that truly means a difference in my neighbor, I must approach him/her by the hand of Jesus. He is the one who can unite the elements of a construction. That’s why Jesus was so concerned about whether his disciples and “the people” had understood that he was the Christ, who is deeply united to our Father and therefore can serve as our guide and cornerstone at all times.
As Pope Saint John Paul II recalled at the 2002 World Youth Day, Christ alone is the cornerstone on which it is possible solidly to build one’s existence. Only Christ – known, contemplated and loved – is the faithful friend who never lets us down, who becomes our travelling companion, and whose words warm our hearts.
One last observation. Let us note that the parable is addressed to those who are the spiritual guides of the people, those who, like you and me, have been given the task of helping people to develop the best of themselves, to bear the best fruit.
The parable insists that the owner of the vineyard has carefully arranged everything so that the best grapes are produced. It does not ask for an impossible. This is how the First Reading describes it. But this does not happen. The plants do not appear as guilty, but the tenant farmers, who try to take advantage of the vineyard instead of serving their master. The owner of the vineyard has clearly expressed his will and desires and has been deceived and despised. On our part. are we always ready to listen to Him?