The phrase "taking ownership" is one with which all of us are familiar - especially those of us who work and travel in "ecclesial" circles. We hear talk of taking ownership of the Church: this is our church, our community, our parish - we are the Church. In a very real sense, all of this is true, although sometimes we can tend to get carried away with the idea. Broadening the scope a little, we can also carry the idea of God being "Our God" a little too far. We human beings are a strange species and we need to be constantly reminded that God does not belong to any one group of us, that we all belong to Him (we are His) and that He has given us His gifts, not to possess, but to use wisely.
Today's Scripture Readings focus on the Kingdom of God and those who claim to possess it. Isaiah raised his prophetic voice to warn the people of Israel that if they did not tend the vineyard of the Lord more carefully they would bring forth sour grapes, and ultimately lose their inheritance.
Jesus gave the same warning to the religious leaders of His day. He reminds them that they are not the "owners" of the vineyard, merely its stewards. And He said specifically that unless they were careful, the kingdom would be taken from them and given to others who would produce a rich harvest.
Jesus' warning was meant for us as well, and points to some very powerful questions: How carefully are we tending the Vineyard? What accounting will we make for our stewardship?
In the United States, we celebrate today "Respect Life Sunday." This year we are reminded yet again that these are not days when we can just give lip-service to the Gospel, or live the Christian life comfortably and complacently. Our times - especially our times - call for a radical discipleship, and a strong, courageous witness to the sacredness of life, of creation, of marriage, of the family. We are accountable for the well-being of one another, and it is time (and necessary) for us to pay very close attention to the words of Jesus - to re-examine the kind of fruit we are producing. Have we grown comfortable and lax? Have we taken the fire out of the Gospel message? Are we overburdened with possessions? Are we running out of viable answers for our young people? Are we feeding them wild grapes?
The sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage, the family and children have always been core to the great idealistic teachings of our Judeo-Christian heritage. From our infancy, a sense of reverence was instilled in our hearts and minds regarding the gift of life, the faithful and exclusive love of parents, the ties of love and loyalty and concern that bound members of a family together, and the innocence and vulnerability of children. This sense of reverence and sacredness was rooted in our religious faith and teaching. And it was a heritage that was passed on very carefully from generation to generation.
Faithfulness to this ideal seems to be very much threatened in our own time. We are surrounded with an almost total disregard for the sanctity of life, rather than a respect for it. We are witnesses to the senseless slaughter of innocents not only from well-planned terrorist attacks but also by "drive-by" shooters who choose their victims randomly; we continue to struggle with the pros or cons of the death penalty; we argue the merits of stem-cell research. The prospect of war becomes more of a reality as each day passes. Pro-Abortion laws continue to attack the unborn, "physician-assisted suicide" has become a replacement phrase for euthanasia. Daily, we are almost suffocated by the bad news of frequent divorce, of broken families, of unwanted, battered and abused children. Violence against the human person is commonplace and peace seems to be something we can only dream about.
While we seek for answers, we should listen very attentively to the ideal set before us in the Gospel and reaffirm our commitment to this ideal. Certainly we need to deal realistically with contemporary problems and circumstances, but we need even more to be aware that a respect for life depends on a true respect for one another… an honoring of the value of human dignity.
Perhaps the world around us has lost the sense of the sacred. Perhaps the ideals we try to live by and share with our children are blurred and ultimately wiped out by the noise and glare of the commercialism and greed for power of the world around us. Perhaps the concern for ownership is more valuable than the Gospel value of stewardship which can only become real in a genuine concern for others.
We must somehow shut out and overcome the contemporary spirit that undermines the structures of Christian idealism, weakens our convictions, and tends to isolate our lives from the light and power of the Spirit. This can only begin with a clearer understanding that true ownership is nothing more than being true stewards of the tasks given us by the Lord. It is He Himself who urges us to tend the vineyard more carefully, and to bring forth the good fruit of peace and justice. And it is the ancient yet ever new voice of Paul who reassures and urges us, united fully with all believers across the world to: "Dismiss all anxiety from your minds...present your needs to God...then God's own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus."