The Parable of the Landowner and the Vineyard from another perspective. When we let ourselves be open to it, the Gospel Stories, especially the Parables, offer us the opportunity to be aware of God happening our life. And when we recognize God in our life, we can also begin to recognize God happening in other people’s lives. Francis says the role of the church is not to control access to God (our way is the only true way), but to help people recognize God doing things in their life. He urges the church, and us, to be open to the Spirit, not be rigid, not impose burdens on people, something that many religious traditions, and many of us, are doing.
Coming to this point is difficult because we have been taught for so long that God is remote, somewhere “out there”, uninvolved, and watching us to see if we screw up (really not a theological term, but it makes the point). We have learned to fear this God. We want to “get to heaven”, whatever or wherever this is, after we die, something that happens later, so that is where our focus is. This God has very little impact on ur everyday living. Being open to the Spirit takes a lot of trust and discernment, realizing I don’t have all the answers, just different questions. Wherever I am, there aren’t always answers, just more questions, and so the Spirit unfolds. Something I learned long ago in the Infantry School — the limits I impose on myself are nowhere near what I can really do. And so it is with the Spirit. She is not limited by the limits I would impose on Her for my own comfort and safety. It’s ok to not know. It’s ok to wonder and wander.
Over the centuries a number of religious traditions have sprung up to help us deal with some basic question, such as: “where did I come from?; “why am I here?”; “where am I going?”, etc. We who want to be Christians believe God sent his Son, Jesus, to help us answer these questions. We believe Jesus is everything we can know of God from our human perspective. But, then, within Christianity there are several versions of Jesus, some of which have differed significantly from each other, and still do. Which tradition we follow impacts how we live, how we see things.
As these traditions grew over the centuries they seemed to varying degrees to put themselves between their followers and God, like trying to control access to God — if you want to get to God, your have to follow our rules. For many good folks following the rules of a given tradition becomes more important than trying to live the Gospel. But these “rules” differ among the various Christian traditions, adding to the confusion.
Gradually over time many of us grow weary of this sort of thing and in one way or another and varying degrees just walk away. We begin to realize that the life these traditions teach is not the life that we know every day. Many of the folks that they portray as evil, “intrinsically disordered”, in one way or another, are actually good people that we know and live with every day. A significant disconnect. Even as we are making our own way we still try to do what we see as good: taking care of each other, raising our families as best we can, understanding and living our responsibility to the common good beyond our own convenience, taking care of the environment, and so on. We aren’t using religious terms, but we are still living the Gospel values, responding to the needs of others, and at times allowing others to respond to our needs. We need to recognize the good happening wherever it is.
Many good folks are convinced that following the rules of a given tradition is more important than anything else. This is especially obvious these days in the commotion over the Synod that Pope Francis is calling for. He wants the Church to return to being a listening church, hearing everybody and, being open to the Spirit, discerning where the Spirit is leading us. For some good folks this as a threat to the church as they see it. They say the Church is unchangeable, and any attempt to make even the slightest change is the work of evil. Following the rules is more important than being open to the Gospel. We live in times that have never happened before in the history of humanity. The same Gospel speaks to us in new and maybe different ways.
Jesus used Parables to shock the people of his time, and us, into new ways of thinking and seeing, mainly trying to “think” as God thinks. The God that Jesus shows us, his and our Father, is not a God to be afraid of. Our Father is not remote, but very much involved with all and each of us. Our problem is that we often don’t get this, because so many traditions still present a god who is “out there somewhere”. The Gospels help us see in our own life that God is not finished revealing God’s self to us, and we are not finished growing into who we are being created to be. Each of us, and the Church, is a work in progress.
The Parable of the Landowner and the Vineyard, when we let it, offers us some insight into our life that we usually see only in retrospect. But this looking back and seeing God helps us recognize God happening in our life right now. It is a wonderful and liberating experience. We come to understand that the same God who is creating the entire cosmos is creating us as we are and loving us as we are. As we come to know this we find ourselves knowing the same thing about everybody else. This is both eye opening and liberating. We’re beginning to see and know God as real, here and now. Perhaps the biggest thing is the realization that we are never alone by ourselves in anything. So often God happens in our life through the other people in our life and vice versa, often very unexpectedly. No religious institution can deprive us of this, although many seem to try. It’s not unreasonable to believe that each of us in our own way is being called to “grow and bear much fruit”. Just sayin . . .