Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily of the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
8 October 2017
Dear friends in Christ,
In human experience, there is a phenomenon that is no stranger to many of us: love unreturned, unreciprocated, spurned and betrayed. It is a painful and distressing experience when our care and our love for someone is met with rejection and betrayal on the part of our loved one. Yet unreturned or unrequited love is a universal experience, not only in romantic relationships but also in friendships and even in family relationships.
A husband betrays his wife; a wife her husband; a mother’s will is contested by the son against his father; the daughter left the house and her distraught parents without offering any reason nor leaving any trace. I think we are not too unfamiliar with these tragic stories. Few families, indeed, are spared of the reality of betrayal and the immense hurt that it inflicts on us. The Bible itself offers a startling panorama of spurned love. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” hears the complaints of his people against the Egyptians. He liberates them from the yoke of slavery and makes with them a covenant of enduring fidelity. Yet in return, they consistently manifest their hardness of the heart; they reciprocate with ingratitude and disloyalty.
In the first reading, we listen to Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard” which is a heart-rending reminder of such love. God plants a vineyard with loving care so it will yield fruit, but what comes forth are wild grapes. He pleads with the vineyard keepers, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people of Judah, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” Here the song turns tragic, as God will cause ruin to the vineyard; because he looked for judgement, but received bloodshed; for justice, but received a cry.
The Gospel elaborates on the same theme, using almost the identical characters in the Old Testament’s song of the vineyard. A man plants a vineyard, reminiscent of God’s care in Isaiah. He leases the vineyard to others and then wants his share of the produce. He sends three servants to collect his due. But the wretched tenants abuse and kill them. More are sent but they are treated the same way. With incredible logic, the owner thinks that if he sends his son, they will respect him.
Not surprisingly, the tenants see this as an act of desperation and kill the son. But here comes a twist in the plot, a surprise in the story. The suffering and the death of the son does not mean that the tenants will have their wicked way. God turns his plan to triumph by raising his rejected servant. The stone rejected by the builders becomes the cornerstone. Just as he embraced life through rejection and death, each of us is called to live the powerlessness and vulnerability of Jesus.
The parable expresses the essence of the God of love.
Despite our infidelity, our betrayal and our ingratitude, God continues to go in search for our love. This is called “the divine pathos,” which is the great paradox of biblical faith – a longing God in pursuit of humanity. Jesus, who later laments over Jerusalem, brings to expression this shocking side of God’s love, a love that will ultimately spell his own death: “O Jerusalem that killed the prophets. How often I long to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicken under her wings.”
We are too familiar with the tragic consequences of love unrequited and betrayed. In the light of the Scriptures, we can review our own response to God’s love and see whether we ourselves are guilty of spurning and betraying divine love. Each of us can honestly assess whether we have behaved like the tenants in the parable by way of our self-indulgence, our pursuit of worldly values and our neglect of the spiritual life. Furthermore, we can also look at the way we conduct ourselves in relation to family, friends, neighbours, in other words, our relationships with others. God expects from us responsible stewardship, the fruit that we should produce: fruit of patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, service and forgiveness.
The example of Jesus who loved despite of being unreciprocated, offended and even betrayed becomes a model for us. When we come up against the failings of others; when we meet with ingratitude especially from our loved ones, we can learn from the Suffering Servant. It is He, rejected, spurned, and betrayed, who became the cornerstone of our lives. In Jesus, we meet a God who saves not by power and greatness – at least not in the worldly sense. Instead, our God who saves is one who suffers. In this consists the paradox of our faith, that God of power chose the path of weakness, vulnerability, suffering and death. We call this the paradox of the cross.
May the Lord guide us as we endeavour to follow him on the straight and narrow way of the cross. May we always be inspired by the example of his persistent and generous love for us, so that we can do the same even in times we experience hurt, disappointment and letdown. May the words of Jesus spur us on despite not seeing the rewards of our suffering faith: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone, this is a marvel in our eyes and we rejoice in it. Amen.”