Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
What kind of tenants are we? The parable Jesus tells in the Gospel we read this weekend gives us an example of bad tenants, greedy people who refuse to do what is right, to abide by the agreement they had freely entered into, and who are violent in their opposition to fulfilling justice. This, of course, is an image meant to be applied figuratively to our lives, though if we are tenants we should strive to be good tenants. Moving beyond the surface application (paying rent on time, etc), there is a deeper understanding necessary.
By virtue of our baptism, each of us lives in a covenantal union with God. The terms of this covenant can be found in the 10 Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the precepts of the Church. Being a baptized follower of Christ entails certain behaviors and practices, while benefitting us unto eternal life. The tenants in the parable had work and a place to live, as well as a share of the produce of the land, provided they gave the owner of the land his due. Their desire to take without giving what justice demands they give becomes exaggerated to the point of violence. The repeated attempts of the landowner symbolize the many times that God tries to renew the covenantal relationship with Israel. By sending the prophets, God calls Israel back, but again and again, Israel rejects the prophets and even kills some of them. Finally, the landowner sends his son – a reference to Jesus – whom the tenants plot against and kill. So too will Israel reject Jesus and kill Him.
Applied to our lives, this parable carries weight. In baptism, the covenant was established between me and God, but in sin, I choose against Him, I choose for myself, and thus refuse to give the produce at the proper time. Fortunately, the Son is sent so that we can be reconciled. Again and again God invites us back into the covenant with Him, again and again we are offered mercy, the Son is sent to us. The Father never stops seeking the renewal we need. Recognizing all this, let us look at a more concrete example to apply this parable to our lives. The prophets were sent to Israel to call them back, most especially when they had broken the covenant with God through idolatry. Most of us are not sacrificing animals before wooden or stone statues, but that does not mean that idolatry is absent from our lives. Perhaps the most common form of idolatry at work today in America is the idolatry of party politics. How easy it is for us to put party affiliation and agenda before our commitment to the Gospel, or to excuse those things in a party platform that conflict with the Gospel. This is idolatry. How easy it is for us to consume news media and be consumed by reports, such that we give in to fear, or we encourage fear in others. When we divinize a party, or even worse, a candidate, rather than seeking first the lordship of Jesus Christ, we commit idolatry and narrow our gaze, looking away from the eternal horizon that we ought to have as we hope for heaven and instead look to the things of this world and present realities as though they will give us happiness or salvation. Again and again, God sends prophets to call us back, but how often we ignore them. As election season ramps up, we ought to examine our consciences honestly before the Lord. Have I chosen politics over the Kingdom of Heaven? Have I aligned myself more with a political party’s agenda than with the Gospel? Am I more willing to share my political beliefs with someone than I am to share my faith? Does the time I spend thinking about elections and candidates even compare to the time I spend praying? Have I bowed before these foreign idols rather than turning to the God of truth, beauty and goodness?
On a personal level, I tend to shy away from partisan politics. The idolatry I am most often guilty of involves ecclesial matters. I am fascinated by the doings of various Roman congregations and have become an expert armchair quarterback on all things ecclesial, and especially, diocesan. But I write those words to my shame. For in truth, I am often more concerned about policies and procedures and pastoral programs handed down from higher office than I am about evangelizing. I am often consumed by concerns about administrative decisions with which I disagree and spend more time thinking about and worrying about them than I do on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament. I often give my own preferences and ideas pride of place, rather than surrendering them to God’s judgement and providential care. This is my idolatry.
Jesus ends his parable telling the scribes, Pharisees, chief priests, and elders that the kingdom will be taken away from them and given to a people that will produce its fruit. That is, taken away unless there is repentance. So let us repent of our idolatry that allows us to prefer anything to the full truth of the Gospel. Let us repent of those times we have, in our hearts, rejected the messengers sent to us in favor of our own preferences and ideals. Let us repent of the time we spend consumed by things without bringing them confidently to the Lord. Then, having repented, may we be those good, faithful tenants who live lives of peace and tranquility, bringing to God the fruit of the harvest at the proper time because we have labored with Him throughout the process.