Homilies by Fr. Greg Kimm, Pastor25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 20-21 September 2008
In playing basketball, those who are tall might have an advantage over those who are short. In conversing in a foreign language, native speakers might have an advantage over those who have taken some language classes. In getting a job, applicants with experience might have an advantage over those who have never done this kind of work. In getting a tan, those with a darker skin tone might have an advantage over those with pale skin. In enjoying the freedom of speech, Americans might have an advantage over the citizens of China.
But in the eyes of God, nobody has an advantage over anybody else: not the people who faithfully go to mass every week; not the people who spend countless hours serving their community; not the people who make large contribution to charitable organizations; not the people whom everyone likes and about whom no one has ever said anything bad. In the eyes of God, nobody has an advantage over anybody else, simply because God loves everyone the same. Just as the owner of the vineyard pays the workers hired last as much as the workers hired first, God generously pours his love upon the deserving and the undeserving, the faithful and the faithless, the saint and the sinner.
And if God's generous love make no sense to us, if we cannot understand why good Catholic people would not have some kind of advantage over everybody else, that is as it should be, for as God says through the prophet Isaiah, "[M]y thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways."
see Isaiah 55:6-9; Matthew 20:1-16a [Top]
In 1997 in Seattle, WA, a 10-year-old boy was expelled from school after he reached into his pocket for lunch money and discovered that it contained the 1" toy pistol belonging to his G.I. Joe action figure. There was a zero tolerance policy about bringing a weapon to school.
Zero tolerance policies make no exceptions; one offense, no matter what the circumstances, is enough to incur a penalty. Such policies are widely accepted in our nation today. Many schools have them in regard to drugs and bullying, not just weapons. All 50 states have adopted a zero tolerance policy about minors operating a motor vehicle after having consumed alcohol. Every Catholic priest in this country is subject to a zero tolerance policy of the U.S. bishops, which suspends from Church ministry any priest with a history of sexual abuse of a child. The leaders of the U.S. military have a zero tolerance policy which prohibits racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and hazing.
The value of zero tolerance policies can be debated. On one hand, these policies can sometimes be applied too strictly, without common sense or compassion. On the other hand, these policies can often do what they are intended to do, that is, protect people. But what cannot be debated is the fact that God does not have a zero tolerance policy. Like the father in Jesus' parable, all God really cares about is the yes that people give to him--even if they first say no. God allows people to change their minds and their hearts. After sin, there is always the possibility of God's mercy and forgiveness.
As we consider our zero tolerance of everything from weapons in school to marital infidelity, perhaps we should remember that if God had a zero tolerance policy, the population of heaven would be extremely small--and we wouldn't need the fingers of one hand to count the number of those of us in this church who would ever have the chance of getting there.
see Matthew 21: 28-32 [Top]
We all have disappointments in life but sometimes the disappointments are so bitter that they are extremely difficult to swallow. Parents raise a child, care for him, make sacrifices for him, but he constantly rebels. An employee works at the same company for years, expecting job security and gratitude but instead gets laid off. Spouses marry, looking forward to a long and happy life together, but are left with a marriage that is nether long nor happy. A business owner puts blood, sweat, and tears into a dream but watches helplessly as the business fails.
We can understand, then, how God is feeling in our first reading. "The vineyard of the Lord. . . is the house of Israel," but despite all that God has done to produce a good harvest from his people, all they have given him is the "wild grapes" of disobedience. When God says sadly, "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?" that is a sentiment familiar to anyone whose best efforts have not brought success.
When we meet with bitter disappointments in our lives, it is common for others to advise us to move on, to let go of the past, to make a new beginning. This is usually good advice and the healthiest way to deal with our disappointments. But I have to say that the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ does not take this advice. Because, as we said in our opening prayer, God's "love for us surpasses all our hopes and desires," he can't give up on us. When we run away, he goes after us; when we close our ears, he just keeps talking, trying to convince us, persuade us to take the path he wants us to follow.
Disappointment will never extinguish God's hopes for us or deter him from making his best efforts to bring those hopes to fulfillment.
see Isaiah 5:1-7 [Top]
Most Catholic churches in the U.S. have given up on the idea of a dress code. We could argue about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but the fact is that Catholics pretty much wear whatever they like to church. There are some churches in the world, however, where a dress code is still enforced. At the Vatican, for example, people are expected to dress modestly. And outside churches in the Holy Land, there are signs prohibiting not only the wearing of shorts but also the carrying of guns.
There was definitely a dress code for the wedding feast in Jesus' gospel story but the problem of the poor fellow who gets thrown out at the end is not so much his choice of clothing as the attitude his clothing represented. He didn't fully appreciate where he was or what he was doing.
How much do we appreciate where we are and what we are doing right now? How many of us are actually happy to be here? Or is going to mass just another chore, something we have to get out of the way before we can do something we enjoy? Do we listen attentively to the readings, aware that Christ is speaking to us, or do we not even bother to get here in time to hear them? Do we sing the songs, recognizing them as part of our conversation with God, or do we use the free time to remind ourselves of what we have to pick up at the store? Do we receive the body of Christ with reverence or could we easily be mistaken for taking a walk down the street? Do we savor the time we get to spend with the other members of God's family or do we rush out of church early so we don't get caught in the traffic jam in the parking lot?
The feast to which we have come is greater than any wedding feast. Christ himself is our host and what he offers us is not the "rich food and choice wine" of our first reading, but his very own life. This feast is a meeting between heaven and earth, for as we surround the table of the Lord's word and body, we ourselves are surrounded by angels and saints, all joyously uniting their worship with ours. To those who are willing to accept what Christ offers, this feast is a source of strength and hope, love and grace, comfort and blessing. To partake of this feast is a glorious privilege and a gift beyond price. We do not deserve this feast --and for this reason we must learn to appreciate it.
see Isaiah 25: 6-10a; Matthew 22:1-14 [Top]