Monday, September 29, 2014

Call to the Vineyard

A man had two sons.  He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went.  The man came to the other son and gave the same order.  He said in reply, 'Yes, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?  Matthew 21:28-31

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul says something powerful, unbelievable really. He said:

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality 
with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the 
form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.”  Phil 2:6-8

Wow, that is so incredible.  
Jesus, who is God, emptied himself to become a slave – for us! 
Why would an all-powerful God do that? 

Jesus, who was God, in complete humility, emptied himself of himself to serve us. If he is our model as Christians, what does that tell us? Our call as Christians is to like Jesus, to be humble and serve others.  But the world tells just the opposite.  The world celebrates vanity, and tells us to watch out for number one.

In the reading above from Matthew's gospel, Jesus Invites us today to come to the vineyard and do God’s work. The vineyard imagery is a place where God calls his people to labor with him in the midst of the world. It is where his sons and daughters work in order to receive the reward of his kingdom. And the values in the vineyard – in God’s kingdom – are different than that of the world.  The world tells us happiness comes from acquiring possessions, receiving praise and having more. "The one with the most toys wins."

Jesus says – that’s a lie. He told us: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the Good News's will save it.”  God is calling us to live differently, to humble ourselves as he did and serve others. Jesus said in God’s world – in the vineyard – “The humble are exalted. The exalted are humbled.”

God calls us into his vineyard every day, just like he did those two sons in the parable.  And truth is most of us can find a bit of each brother in our lives. At times we say; "Yes, Sir ... I will go to work in the vineyard."  But, do we make it to the vineyard?  We say: “Yes, sir,” but then never let go of the world, never do anything to bring compassion and healing to the world. We never humble ourselves, let go of our agenda, and serve others in God’s name. We put on a good show about our faith.  We come to church regularly, but in our hearts, we never let go of the values of the world. We don't really want to change.  And in truth, this little piece of our life, the part we call "church," works just the way we want it to. One of the hardest things about writing this blog is how often I realize that I am the one who needs to hear the message most! 

The truth is we are all, also, a little bit like the son who said: “NO Lord.”  We say “no” by sinning, being selfish, and choosing the world over God’s vineyard. All of us have had those moments of selfishness and been anything but humble. Then we discover that what we thought would make us happy doesn't.

That is what happened to Saint Augustine one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  His young adulthood was a stormy period. It included fathering a child out of wedlock. In his twenties, Augustine moved to Milan, Italy, where he became a professor of rhetoric; a very prestigious position for a young man.  His personal life, however, continued to be stormy and wayward.

While in Milan, two things happened to him. First, he became increasingly unhappy with his personal life. Second, he became attracted to Christianity. It was in this frame of mind that he sat down one day and began to ponder his life. Suddenly he broke into tears and began to cry out to God: And you, Lord! How long will you be angry with me? Forever? Why not at this very hour put an end to my evil life?

Augustine said later: I was crying out like this when, suddenly, I heard the voice of a child. It seemed to say, “Take and read! Take and read!” I stood up. For now the voice seemed like a command to read the Bible. I got a Bible and opened it. The first words my eyes fell upon were from the letter of Paul to the Romans.

They read:
“Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Let us conduct ourselves properly, as people who live in the light of day—no orgies or drunkenness . . . no fighting or jealousy. But take up the weapons of the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop paying attention to your sinful nature.”  Romans 13:12–14

When Augustine read this, he stopped. There was no need to go on. He says: “My heart was suddenly flooded with a light that erased all my doubts. And my soul was filled with a deep peace.” The Confessions of Saint Augustine (condensed and adapted)

That’s what happens when we finally enter the vineyard ... we find peace.

We need to ask ourselves the same questions Augustine did:
  • How content are you with our present life?
  • Are you dissatisfied with your present relationship with God?
  • Do you wish you had a closer relationship, a closer connection, with Jesus?
  • Are we ready to work in the vineyard, ready to humble ourselves, and help     others, especially the needy?

If that’s the case, what all-important first step might we take?
  • For some of us maybe that step is the sacrament of Reconciliation. Maybe we need to go to confession.
  • Maybe it’s simply to begin tonight to spend a few minutes in prayer before going to bed.
  • Or maybe you need to begin a small bible study or faith sharing group to support you.

We are all being called to the vineyard.  Will we go is the only question.

Welcome to the vineyard Jesus says.  Let’s go be productive together.

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