Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 5, 2008
Readings: Is 5:1-7 / Phil 4:6-9 /Mt 21:33-43
I have been an educator (a teacher) for the past 31 years. Add to those years four more when I dabbled at religion teaching as a 4th Yr High School student, as a freshman in college, a sophomore, and a novice teaching catechism. They seem enough to enable me to make some simple generalizations and conclusions, don’t they?
One simple generalization I should like to make as I look back, is this… it is hard to deal with the indifferent, with the lazy, with those who are not properly or sufficiently motivated to learn. It is far easier to deal with those who are eager to learn, far easier even with those, who, while short in understanding, nevertheless are participative, who show effort, good will, and a lot of hard work. Students who have drive, who show interest, and who apply themselves to study are those who give meaning to the life of a teacher. They make mistakes, assuredly. But it is precisely those mistakes that propel them towards learning. And it is precisely those mistakes that make a teacher like me relevant and useful.
The key-word here is productivity that points to results that do not fall short of the effort put into whatever endeavor; results that are commensurate with the care and efforts expended. Surely, a vine-grower who sees to it that everything is in perfect order expects to harvest fine, sweet grapes, not wild grapes. The passage from Isaiah does not make a secret about the vine grower’s utter disappointment: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” It is easy for us to sympathize with the vine grower who, in frustration decides to henceforth stop all he had been doing, for it had not born fruit as expected. It had been chosen; cared for; treated with special predilection and attention. But it failed to deliver and bear fruit. Like the indifferent and lazy students, the vineyard failed to appreciate and respond appropriately to all that investment of love and caring that the vine grower had shown more than just convincingly.
We all are no strangers to this path of indifference and laziness – and lack of fruitfulness, even as we are no strangers to a similar experience of love and solicitude from a personal and loving God. As a teacher for so many years, another simple generalization I think I can safely make is this: those who have more in life, exert less effort. Those who are born in a privileged culture of plenty are loathe to exerting efforts and working hard for anything. Everything comes easy for the rich and the powerful. Everything can be had for the right price. The rich do not feel the need to do extra work. But it is generally those who have little in life, who have very limited resources who know they must work hard to get at something that does not come automatically to their world of resources. Asian Americans who were born and were thus exposed to a culture of want excel far more than home-grown Americans who only saw abundance and plenty. A recent study by Time magazine shows that Asian Americans, on the whole, earn more than the native-born Americans, of whatever, ethnic group. Again, the key-word is effort, good will, and the drive for productivity. This is as far as material productivity is concerned.
But alas, the same may not be true with regard to spiritual fruitfulness. (An old, but very precise word for this is fecundity).
Take now our case as Filipinos, so blessed by God, with that singular favor of being the only Christian country in Asia! Chosen from among so many, the Christian faith took firm root in this vast area surrounded by some of the world’s great faiths: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, etc. From among so many, we received the singular grace of evangelization and Gospel illumination. Just what have we done with it? To us, the Lord, could very well say: “What else have I not done for the sake of this vineyard of mine?”
Take now our own personal cases and the blessings that have been showered upon us… Most of those who get to read these reflections are those who probably can afford, or at least, can have access to a computer (or at the very least, its wonderful effects. I do know for a fact that some of my readers make hard copies of these reflections, and either file them for others, or pass them around for them to read, or forward them via e-mail!). What more can most of us ask for? We have relatively stable jobs. Many of us, if not most of us, can afford a modicum amount for some form of recreation or relaxation, at least occasionally, or on a regular basis. Many of us belong to that portion of our society who can have the means and the material time to go to Mass each Sunday, and still have time to spare to go malling or whiling some time for rest at home. Many of us can afford not to work on Sundays. What else do we expect God to do for us in order to make us realize we need to make extra efforts to learn more about Scripture, or about our faith? Indeed, as the responsorial psalm puts it so bluntly, “the vineyard of the Lord [that the first reading is talking about] is [us] the house of Israel.” We cannot self-righteously think that the readings today do not refer to us. We cannot be “sitting pretty” and getting more and more complacent about our faith that does not go beyond merely attending Mass on Sundays and not allowing it to bear fruit in our daily lives. Surely, the readings today ought to prick us in some way. What have we done in return for all the blessings we have received? What have we concretely done to help alleviate the worsening problems of our society? Have we become so complacent about the trash, the traffic, the graft and corruption, the utter lack of professionalism in our culture – all signs of a cultural and moral malaise that social scientists are talking about? The vineyard of the Lord is us! It is US the Lord now is calling to task, asking us what fruits we can rightfully boast of. To us now is given the gentle reminder of the Gospel: “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
There is something in the readings today that convicts me personally. Having been an educator for all those years, a priest for almost 26 years now, I know I have to ask myself what fruit have I born so far. I have been chosen. I have been, and still, am loved with a marvelous love by this world’s tremendous lover! His love has born so much fruit for others, including me. His love is so life-giving, so fecund, so powerful. What return have I made for all this? What return can I now make?
Paul himself tells us today, too, in his letter to the Philippians. What return can we make for all these blessings from the Lord? “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Yes, the pickings are there for us. But we have to get up, roll up our sleeves and get to work. We cannot afford to be indifferent and slothful. We have to make choices. We have to decide and not coast along, complacent with the minimum we think we have been doing (ever thought about the measly few pesos you have been putting in the collection plate week in and week out, pitted against the hundreds, if not, thousands of pesos you put to entertainment and food?). Surely, not everything we have done and still do is true, just, honorable, pure and lovely in God’s eyes!
A favorite line from a favorite poem of Hopkins aptly expresses my convictions at this time. One that does not bear fruit, that is, one who is not fecund, is just like a eunuch, which we all are unless we go and bear fruit.
…birds build – but not I build; no but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes…
What is it that mostly occupies our attention? “Oh, the sots and thralls of lust do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend, Sir, life upon thy cause!”
“Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain.”
Send my roots rain, O Lord, for you have chosen me to go and bear fruit in plenty.
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