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Crossing the Line!

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Today, Jesus tells us a very puzzling parable (Matt 21:33-43). Why would the owner of the vineyard send his own son to deal with the tenants when the tenants have already beaten, stoned and killed the other servants he sent them? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Jesus may well have a message he is trying to get across to us. 

As we live our lives, we discover that there are certain things that mean a whole lot to us. We’ll even give our lives for them. Our country would be one of them. Every day the media is telling us about brave young men and women who give up their lives in the military to preserve the freedoms of our country. We love our country that much.

The same is true of our Church and our parish. Our parish is our spiritual home. We love our parish. We say the same about our neighborhood and where we live. We have so many conveniences of where to shop, eat and be entertained. We enjoy and we love our neighbors. They mean so much to us. 

All of this is well and good…..Until people start to cross over the line. When this happens, and people cross over the line, then our country, our parish and our neighborhood are not just the places where we live, work and worship. They become MY country, MY parish and MY neighborhood. And if you don’t measure up to MY country, MY parish and MY neighborhood, then get out of here!!

We wind up with some people who are Super Patriots. They are the ONLY ones who know what this country, this parish and this neighborhood are all about. Anyone who dares to disagree with them can get out of here. 

I grew up in Niles, Illinois, a suburb on the northern border of Chicago in the 1950’s. The suburb was lily white. A well-educated, young black accountant, his wife and two little children moved into the community. They were wonderful people, but they were Black. They were the best-educated people in our blue-collar neighborhood by far. They endured death threats and rocks through their windows. Our Pastor, Msgr. Flanagan, week after week, got up at all the masses and told us that we had to be like Jesus and welcome this young, Black family. But the intense harassment continued, and this wonderful young famly had to move. 

Nobody like that can move into MY neighborhood, OUR neighborhood. No crossing MY line.

The same is true about the Church. People step over the line and say that they are the ONLY ones who know what is best for the Church. Those who disagree with them are watering down the faith and not keeping it as God intended. This is MY Church and I know what is best for it. This has been the attitude of bishops for many years. 

As a result, priests who abused children were not removed or punished. Too many bishops have felt: “This is MY Church and I know what is best for MY Church.” Yet 60  years ago Vatican II declared that “The People of God are the Church.” This idea of MY Church is rearing its head once again as the Synod of Synodality meets this month in Rome. 

The same is true of MY country. No matter when or how MY family got here, this is now MY country. People from certain countries should not be allowed to live here. 

It is very, very, very difficult to figure out when somebody steps over the line, because the original attitude is so important. To be a patriot is a very good and important thing. To have a vibrant and alive parish is important. To care about one’s neighborhood is so important. 

But you and I and many people can go overboard. This is what I think Jesus is trying to get at in the parable he tells just days before he is to be crucified. Jesus uses the word TENANT 6 TIMES. These tenants were given the vineyard to work and they worked hard, very hard in the vineyard. 

But somehow it got into their system that nobody else was going to take the vineyard or the produce from the vineyard from them. All of a sudden, the vineyard becomes THEIRS the way the country, the religion and the neighborhood becomes THEIRS. They worked so very hard in the vineyard that they saw it as THEIRS. 

You can send somebody in to talk to these tenants and say, “You know what, I think you have crossed the line.” You know what happens. Nobody is going to tell the tenants who now think they are the owners of the vineyard, that they have crossed the line.

Just days before he is to be crucified, Jesus talks to us about a deep human reality with a complex story. What is Jesus’ point? That it is GOD’s vineyard, not OURS. 

Jesus is telling us that WE are the TENANTS. WE are the tenants in our neighborhood, even though we own the house or the condo we live in. WE are tenants in this country, even if we were born here. WE are tenants in our religion, even if we were baptized as a baby. WE ARE ALWAYS THE TENANTS. This gives real meaning to the old adage, “You can’t take it with you”. But so often we are tenants who want to cross the line. 

Why do I feel that this is the point of Jesus’ message today? Because this is why God, the true and real owner of the vineyard, sends his Son Jesus to teach the people. God knows that he is going to be rejected and killed. 

God sends his own Son to be the Savior. But the Savior of WHO? If you crossed the line, really crossed the line, then you think that Jesus came to save the country, the religion and the neighborhood…..to save the country, the religion and the neighborhood from THOSE people. 

Yet Jesus repeatedly said that tax collectors and prostitutes would be getting into heaven before the tenants who think they are the owners who would get into heaven. 

In reality, Jesus came to save us from ourselves. This is a very, very hard time for all of us to come to grips with Jesus’ teachings, with immigrants flooding into our country, the violence in our streets and the impending election. This is a very, very difficult time for our country, our faith and our neighborhood. 

It is so hard for us to not cross the line. We need to pray and pray often that we might have common sense, prudence and a real sense of patriotism about our country, our faith community and our neighborhood. 

Thanks to Duong Nhan for the photo. 

“No crossing the line!” What lines do YOU feel should not be crossed?  Does Jesus’ Parable of the Landowner have any relevance to the lines that YOU draw? 

CHOOSE TO LISTEN TO THOSE WHO BRING OUT YOUR TRUE IDENTITY AS A FOLLOWER OF JESUS!

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