Jesus told parables to jolt people into a new way of thinking, of seeing things. The Parable of the Landowner talks about the boundless mercy and generosity of God. Many of us see God as generous, but add our own interpretations about what that means. We like a God who agrees with us, who sees things as we do, does’t like the same people we don’t like, etc. We envision a God who is just, who punishes evil, rewards those who do good and avoid evil. Of course we define what the “doing good” and “avoiding evil” mean, again according to what makes us feel comfortable and in control. When it comes to people we don’t like for whatever reason, we come up with interpretations etc that make why we don’t like them to be an offense against our god. And since this god doesn’t like them it’s ok for us to dislike them. And so it goes.
What is concerning, and maybe even confusing, is that within major traditions the are are “sub” traditions” that have significantly different views on what God does and does not countenance. Each group usually says something along the lines of “our understanding of God is the only true one”. I dealt with a lot of that in the Army, all good and well meaning folks. With this in mind, it would seem that whether something is wrong or sinful depends on what one’s tradition is. Maybe this is what the groups of workers symbolize— different traditions with different rules and expectations. The Landowner pretty much disregards them: “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Could God be, in effect, saying to us, “I don’t see things the way you do, who’s problem is that?”
Is Jesus using the Parable to shock me in the setting of what is going on in our own time today? Is he calling me to be like the Landowner, to be merciful, understanding, caring, even to do what has to be done though I might not feel like it? It seems to me this is what the Parable is calling me to ask for. I need to really want, and not just go through the motions of talking about, a deep down transformation of heart (and I’m not referring to the recent cardiac event and its damage). What kind of transformation I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to Christ. I wish he had something like my cardiac rehab program so I could get some idea of the pathway ahead. More and more these days, for any number of reasons, I believe God does not offer us easy answers. The Spirit inspires us with difficult and challenging questions. The very act of questioning can be an act of faith and trust. Questioning leads to answers which lead to more questioning which moves us to growing. As an aside, in my cardiac rehab program I’m meeting wonderful people whom I would not have met otherwise, who are teaching me a lot about life, even when I thought I knew it all. I’m learning to care for others and to accept being cared for. Perhaps as we question our local situation we will encounter good folks whom we would not have met otherwise, and so grow in the awareness of God happening in all this, loving us on all sides of this disturbing matter. Perhaps another meaning of the phrase “nothing is impossible with God”.
The Parable shows us God offering mercy and generosity beyond anything we can imagine. Can we even accept this? Do we have to set up so many rules and conditions to impose our view, our will, on folks we don’t know or understand? Pope Francis says realities are greater than ideas. We night look around us, meet some of the folks we would impose our rules on. When we look at it, the Gospel is pretty foreign to how we live, as is the way Jesus lived. Can we really believe that our loving Father is offended by any of His creatures who are sincerely trying to figure out who they are created to be? Or, since we are created to love and be loved, are searching, and perhaps have found, love in places deemed unacceptable by some? How many of our church laws are for maintaining order in the institution, keeping people in line and controlling them, and have little to do with God?
I feel a great pain over the suffering I am encountering in the fallout from the Cleveland Diocese’s new School Policy on Issues of Sexuality and Gender Identity. I am especially concerned with how it impacts our LGBTQ+ youth. Our kids have enough problems without the church hurting them allegedly in the name of God, telling them God does not accept them unless they follow the church’s rules. The suicide rate among our LGBTQ young folks is terribly disturbing. Many feel they are of little good or worth to anybody. Situations like the current one don’t help. Today somebody sent me a message that said, “it’s tough to convince people that a God they can’t see loves them when the church they can see does not love them”. There’s a lot of truth to that, as is becoming disturbingly obvious these days. I’ve heard some pretty nasty things being said allegedly in the name of God. But, hatred alleged to be in the name of God is still hatred. Jesus welcomed everybody, invited people in to experience their Father’s love. Yet, so many want to keep people out, saying that if you want to get to God you have got go through us and follow our rules. Are they the new landowners with similar power but no mercy? The only way for everybody always?
We fear what we don’t know or understand. There is a lot of that going on here. We grow up with our own prejudices, usually based on culture and some tradition. I know I did. I am grateful for my active duty Army service. I had to learn to live with and depend on persons vastly different from myself, and come to recognize and respect our differences. The sense of mission, something beyond my comfort and convenience, was, and remains, something very important. A senior NCO at the Fort Benning Infantry School told us, “take care of your people and the mission will happen”. Very true, learned from experience. What does this mean in our current situation? The mission is living God’s kingdom here and now. How do I/we do this? How do I/we take care of my/our people? Perhaps in trying to be open to the Spirit without telling Her what I/we want to hear, and then going wherever this takes me/us. God loving us is at the root of everything, and it is a dynamic love really happening. Just sayin . . .