Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 1 at Encuentro Hispano.
Like many of you, I was raised in a wonderful home. My parents went to great effort to make our house fit the needs of our large family. For instance, they bought bunk beds sturdy enough to survive a house with five boys. When we were children all my parents expected was that we have a good attitude and do our chores.
Once we became teenagers we learned that their love was unconditional but staying in the house wasn't. Certain attitudes were incompatible with remaining in the house. If our bad attitude was directed at our parents, we risked being invited to live elsewhere: “No son of mine is going to talk to his mother like that! Not while you remain under this roof!” Spirited discussions would remind us of who's in charge in this house, the attitudes we'd better adopt if we intended to remain there, and the unpalatable consequences of persisting in mistaken notions of where we fit in the life of the family. We learned that as long as we lived in our parents' house, we would be held accountable for our behavior there.
In today's Gospel Jesus tells the story of a group of people who lived on a farm that was not their own. They were tenant farmers who had contracted to pay rent to the owner. The owner went to great effort to make this farm serve the needs of his tenants: he planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the winepress and built a watchtower. All he expected in return was that they should make good on their contract of returning to him a portion of the harvest in payment of the rent. Just as with tenants anywhere, if they fail to pay, they will be evicted. If they are good tenants who get behind on their payments due to circumstances beyond their control, the owner might help them come up with something they can manage. But if they have a bad attitude and indeed threaten to do harm to the owner or his family, you can be sure that he will do everything in his power to evict those tenants and hold them accountable for damages.
You and I live in a world that is our temporary home. We live in a country that is free and remains, despite our economic crisis, one of the most prosperous countries in the world. The heavenly owner of this house has gone to great effort to surround us with all sorts of benefits designed to meet our needs and enhance our life. We eat well, have nice clothing and a roof over our heads. And all God expects in return is a good attitude and that we do our chores.
The Bible teaches us that God's love is unconditional, but staying in this house isn't. In our first reading today we learn that those who don't produce good fruit will be destroyed and replaced -- for Isaiah this refers to the destruction of Israel and their exile to Babylon. In our Gospel we find that those who persist in their bad attitude will be held accountable. Those who fail to see that their staying in the vineyard depends on the owner's good will, soon forget who they are before God, that they are not God's equal, that they are dependent on him for everything.
Why did God make us? To know him, love him and serve him in this life, and be happy with him forever in the next. Not to advance our own purposes or build our own kingdoms, but rather to build his kingdom, to administer faithfully everything that God has placed in our hands.
The first thing the wicked tenants do is deny the landowner his share of the produce. Once they have gotten accustomed to withholding from the master that which is rightfully his, and even abusing his collection agents, the wicked tenants take the next logical step. They reject the landowner altogether. They kill his son and try to take possession of the property themselves. What does the rightful owner do? He destroys those tenants and entrusts his property to others.
When you and I are good stewards of the time, talent and treasure that God has placed in our hands, we do so not because God needs it, but rather because we need to give. Otherwise we run the risk of forgetting that we are stewards or tenants. We can begin to delude ourselves into thinking that we are the owners of the property that God has placed at our disposal, that we are free to dispose of it as we please. That we will never have to give an accounting for what we have done with our master's property. Being good stewards of all that God has given us also serves to remind us of who we are, and that we are bound to God in an relationship of master and servant. Our master loves us unconditionally, but he is no fool and he knows what we're up to. We will come to know, love and serve God truly only if we know who we are in relation to God: that we are his tenants, from whom he expects a return.
God made us to be happy with him forever in the next life. Let us pray that we are all found to be good tenants of God's vineyard in the present life, so that the joy he promises will be ours both in this life and in the next!
Audio from Bishop Taylor's homilies are regularly posted in English and Spanish on the diocesan website. Listen to them at www.dolr.org/audio/index.php.
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