Working the Vineyard

Jesus used parables to get his message across – knowing that these parables would be used in countless places and generations.  They use symbols, but these symbols can be applied to many different situations.  Just think of all the congregations that will hear this parable this weekend, and all those congregations in previous generations.

What does the parable of the Householder who planted a spacious vineyard mean for us?

God has prepared a magnificent vineyard for you and me to work in and to cultivate.  He placed us in a nation richly blessed with natural resources and with a real, working, democracy where we enjoy many freedoms.  He placed us here in the Heartland, known for its emphasis upon strong marriages, healthy families, good work habits and dependable conservative values.  He gave us the full richness of the Faith that is found in the Catholic Church.

Then he went away and left us to our own resources.  He gave us our freedom.  What does He want from us?  What is the harvest, the productivity that He expects from us?

Clearly, God wants us to use all the talents He gave us. He wants us to be productive, to engage in major projects.  He wants us to use our fertility to share life with others – the married to have families and physical children, while the clergy, religious and the single to foster spiritual children and families.  Our God wants us to have life, and more life.  Our lives should be like grapevines with heavy clusters of grapes, the fruits of our good works.

When God send his messenger-collectors, he wants to find us gainfully employed, promoting good works wherever we can.  There are many good works that we can pursue.  One very important one is to evangelize, that is to share with others the Gospel, the good news about what God has planned for us.  Everyone is called to be an evangelizer.  Our faith is a great treasure.  We cannot hoard it to ourselves.  We must share it with other, by freely offering it to them.

Pope Paul VI, in his 1975 ON EVANGELIZATION IN THE MODERN WORLD, taught that the “split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times” (EN 20).  He said that every strata, every dimension, of humanity must be transformed.  “For the Church it matters not only of preaching the Gospel more widely and to greater numbers of people, but also of affecting, and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, his determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation” (EN 19).  

And there are many other good works that God wants to see us pursuing in His vineyard.  He wants us to build strong marriages, where a man and a woman love, support, and complete each other.  Marriage is modeled upon God’s commitment to his people in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ commitment to his bride, the Church, in the New Testament.  Today marriage has fallen on hard times.  Think of the divorce rate, absent fathers, and all the confusion today caused by Obergefell V. Hodges.

Strong, loving, faithful and committed marriages are crucial for children growing up in a healthy family.  Healthy, well-balanced and virtuous citizens only come from healthy families.  The State cannot produce or raise up good citizens.  It depends entirely upon good families, and the support of the Churches to these families.  That is why the State must always encourage strong marriages and healthy families.

Here is a clear area of engagement for Christians today – to retrieve God’s plan for marriage, and to help other couples in their efforts to achieve a good marriage.  And remember that every parish, every Catholic college or high school or charitable institution needs ordained priests and consecrated religious if they are to function well, or to even exist.  You can’t have a parish without priests.  Fostering priestly and religious vocations is a project with high priority in God’s eyes for workers in his vineyard.  Join your local Serra Club.

Another great project for us in the vineyard is to protect and faster all human life, especially at its most defenseless stages.  Last Sunday was the national Life Chain day.  Groups of people who silently, prayerfully, hold pro-life signs at a busy intersection for one hour, provide a powerful witness to their entire community.  God wants us to go into the public square and to take a public stand for authentic values.  We are not to surrender the playing field, due to our timidity, or lack of conviction, to those who oppose us in a pluralistic society.  

Jesus is our model.  He excluded no one from his attention and teaching.  He accepted being criticized, ridiculed and maltreated, as did all the prophets before him.  He is the son referred to in today’s Gospel parable.  Today, Catholics have succeeded in entering the mainstream of American life.  Our parents and grandparents had much stronger anti-Catholic prejudice to contend with.  Our generation has many more opportunities to influence the culture.  The master of the vineyard expects us to use these opportunities.

Another area of good works that often gets overlooked, and left underdeveloped, is our citizenship.  We are called, and expected, to exercise our citizenship, which means much, much more than voting, paying taxes and following the laws.  Ours is a government by the governed.  That means that the sovereignty, or this-worldly authority, is located in the people, and not in the government, not in governmental regulatory agencies, and not in the legislatures or courts.  All of these are accountable to the people.  The people elect, or remove, their representatives and government officials.  The legislature is to reflect the will and desires of the people.  They are accountable to their citizens.

The courts do not have a monopoly on interpreting the Constitution of the United States, or that of the State of Kansas.  A bench of lawyers is not to have the power to impose their prejudices upon an entire state or country.  The Supreme Court did not write the Constitution, nor do they own it, nor have they escaped from making some disastrously harmful decisions, by inventing new rights and claiming to find them in a constitution.  Think of the dreadful Dred Scott decision of 1857, or the Roe V. Wade decision of 1973, or Obergefell V. Hodges in 2015.  

Abe Lincoln, in his first Inaugural Address when he was combating the recent Dred Scott decision, warned: “The candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions, then the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

Here in Kansas, our Supreme Court judges are now deliberating whether or not there is a right to abortion to be found in the Kansas Constitution.  If they can find that so called “right” there, then they can find any so-called right there.

These judges respond to public opinion, as have all previous courts.  The need to hear from those where the sovereignty resides, from the people.  The founding fathers, like James Madison in the Federalist Papers (#47-51, 78), insisted that all 3 branches of the government have a duty to interpret the Constitution, as well as the people at large.  The basic principles in our founding documents are not that esoteric and complex, that only a select few lawyers can decipher them.

If the Kansas Supreme Court decrees that the right to abortion is found in the Kansas Constitution, then all the struggles over the past 44 years here in Kansas to pass the many, patchy, pro-life bills thus far, is lost and made void.  The express will of the people will be ignored once again.  A working, viable, democracy depends upon a well-informed and engaged citizenry.  That too is a good work for the laborer in the vineyard.

We do not want to be thrown out of the vineyard, or be disposed of, or to have the vineyard torn down, or to have it leased out to other tenants.  We look to our God for guidance.  When he gives us his basic plan for how we are to live together peacefully in an ordered liberty, then we are to try to understand that plan, and then find ways to implement it.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:8-9).