Sunday, October 3, 1999 --27th Sunday, "A"
H O M I L Y
In the National Archives, in Washington, one can read a conversation that took place about a century and a half ago between a government official and the chief of the great Indian tribes on the West Coast, the Nez Percés, Chief Joseph.
The commissioner mentioned to Chief Joseph the advantage of schools for his people. Joseph replied that his people did not want the while man's schools.
"Why do you not want schools?" the commissioner asked.
"They will teach us to have churches", Joseph answered.
"Do you not want to have churches?"
"No, we do not want to have churches."
"Why do you not want churches?"
"They will teach us to quarrel about God." Joseph said. "We do not want to learn that. We may quarrel with men sometimes about things on this earth, but we never quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that."
(From Dee Brown's "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee", pp. 300-302).
How often have we not transformed our religion(s) into schools where we learn to quarrel about God or about how to serve God.
That was the situation in Israel at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Doctors of the Law, the Essene monks at Qumran: each one of those groups were convinced that they, and they alone knew everything about God, about God's plans, about God's law, about God's desire. They thought they owned the truth, and therefore they thought they owned God. And they forgot what was most precious of all to God: his people, and each person in that people.
In the first reading Isaiah, in very tender terms, compare the people to a vine that the Lord has planted and for which he has cared with great love. And in the Gospel, Jesus, taking quite obviously his inspiration from that text of Isaiah, elaborates a parable in which God the Father entrusted his cherished vineyard to tenants. But they soon forgot that they were tenants, and started to act as owners.
Every conflict between human beings, either between individuals, or between nations, has its origin in the fact that people come to believe that they own the truth. And because God is the Truth, every conflict is in fact a conflict about God. And the only way to peace is to acknowledge that God is our common father and master, that he has the same love for all of us, whether we are Muslim, Hindu or Christian, whether we are catholic or protestant, and we could even say whether we are holy or sinners... because His love does not depend on our personal behavior: on the contrary his unconditional love is what always open before us a path to conversion. However faithful or not our response to his love is, we are important to his eyes and this is the only source of our personal worth, of which, therefore, we must never doubt.
In today's Gospel Jesus is reminding us that the whole world is his Father's precious vineyard, and that each one of us is in our own personal way, one of his tenants. Any other being that comes to us asking a share in the fruits of the vine‑ yard is one of the Father's servant; and ultimately it is his own Beloved Son that comes to us in each one of them. May he be received by us as the King of Peace.