Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 4 October 2020
Readings: Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Matt 21:33-43
4 October 2020
We are stewards not owners
Dear friends in Christ,
We used to think that Western culture with its advanced technologies and systems of governance are superior to all others. “The West is the best” many would say. Today, we recognise that there is a lot to learn from other cultures. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters, in particular, can teach us about the relationship between humans and nature. Aboriginal people have lived in this country for many thousands of years and developed a sustainable culture and relationship with the land and water. We can learn a lesson or two about the concept of stewardship, which encompasses a sense of responsibility towards the earth and everything in it.
Today, the Word of God calls us to abandon the self-centred way of life and to embrace a mode of living that fosters relational harmony and communion with everyone and everything. It challenges our innate sense of possessiveness and power-control. Community building is only possible when we recognise we exist in relationship with one another rather than without one another.
In the first reading, we listen to Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard” which is a metaphor for the chosen and beloved people. God the owner of the vineyard has planted, cultivated, and nurtured it. But contrary to God’s expectation, the vineyard only produces sour grapes. Here the song turns tragic: God will dismantle the vineyard because he has received bloodshed instead of justice. The song is an indictment to a people that has lost its way. The Jewish society has failed to be a model nation after the Exodus. Instead of being the home of freedom and solidarity, Israel has become corrupt, oppressive, and toxic for the poor. The song sounds a warning that the exile is imminent.
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.
But here comes a twist in the plot. The suffering and 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 servants in this parable worked the land, but they treated the land as if it was their own. These wicked tenants forgot that they were merely stewards or managers. We sometimes forget too. We are under the delusion of ownership. We think we own things when in reality God is the owner of all things. All we have belongs to God. We are stewards.
Long ago, Francis of Assisi grasped this fundamental reality. He intuitively understood the importance of living not as a self-centred individual but as part of the larger whole. He championed the art of living in deep harmony and communion. He called everything brother or sister. He pioneered the radical life of ‘owning nothing’, not necessarily without material things but without being possessive. We are easily frightened by dispossession because dispossession equals powerlessness. But this was what St Francis realised: material things can create an illusion of power that can vaporise by the snap of a virus.
The coronavirus crisis reveals something deeply uncomfortable. It tells us that the dominant mode of individualism and selfish rivalry is no longer sustainable. The old paradigm of survival of the fittest that undergirds much of our consumerist, trickle-down economic system of buying life at any cost is obsolete. We need to abandon self-centred way of life and to embrace a mode of living that fosters relational harmony and communion with everyone and everything. We need to rewire ourselves to be in communion with one another as a human family and as part of nature. The cry of the poor and the cry of the wounded earth are like a clarion call for us to act.
Brothers and sisters,
Let us learn to be faithful stewards who care for what has been entrusted to us. May we build a world that is a home for the poor and for all God’s creation. Then we can expect to hear his words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little, I will put you in charge of many things; share in the joy of your master.”