Dear Friends in Christ
Let me begin today by welcoming the brothers, sisters, moms, dads, step moms, step dads, aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members who have come to be with us here at Iowa State University this Family Weekend. This is a special weekend for me because this is the anniversary of me becoming a Cyclone fan when my brother invited me to come to Iowa State and stay the weekend with him. I can only hope that other little sisters and brothers are coming to love being a Cyclone this weekend just like I did so many years ago.
As I look back on that weekend, I’m kind of amazed at how well I got along with my brother. I mean, I was a terrible little brother. Don’t get me wrong, I think I was completely justified in being a terrible little brother. After all, I was the youngest of five children. When they were all going through their teen angst, I was a geeky little grade school kid. I used to fight with my siblings all the time. They always thought they knew more than I did and, despite the fact that they proved over and over again that they really did, I would seek to prove that they didn’t. That’s what is so amazing about the idea that I came here and, for 48 hours, I listened to my brother and trusted that he actually knew what he was doing. I can’t believe my parents would put that much trust in him and me!
The landowner of Jesus’ story today knew that he had to put trust in people. He’s the money behind the operation. But, he needed strength in order to get the job done. So, he hired tenants who are expected to raise the crops, live for free on the land, turn over the crops at harvest and be paid for their service. The problem is that they abuse the trust of the landowner and decide that they deserve to keep the produce that they have so painstakingly taken care of. And, they’re going to keep it at all costs, even being willing to torture and murder those sent to collect it. And, who can blame them? They did all the hard work. While the landowner is off having lavish dinner parties living in his palaces, the poor struggling tenant farmers were working in the rain and heat trying to ensure that the best crop is grown. They deserve to keep what they have worked so hard to produce. What gives the landowner the right to come now that it’s harvest time and claim what he never sowed in the first place?
He has the right because that was the deal he struck with the tenants. If they didn’t like the deal, they should have been more shrewd when they were negotiating terms of their tenant contract. He has the right because he owns the field. Contrary to what some believe, Jesus wasn’t a Communist. He recognized the right of ownership. Further, He has the right because, as we came to find out in both the first reading and the gospel, He is the God who made the field in the first place. How did the tenants get the plants to sprout from their seeds? How did they make the sun shine in the day and just enough rain to come? How did they make sure that nothing terrible happened like a natural disaster? Of course, they didn’t. They were as helpless to all of that as any human landowner would have been. Would they have wanted to be responsible for a bad crop? Of course not.
Lately, we have heard a lot of news about the federal bailout of moneylenders, with every politician willing to point fingers at the other side to lay blame. And, I’ve heard a lot of people worried about how they are going to deal with the economic downturn this will mean for our county. How do we deal with these catastrophes? Do we try to act like the tenants from the gospel and the wild grapes of the first reading, behaving badly toward one another in a way that points fingers of blame? Let us carefully listen to St. Paul who encourages us, in difficult times, to focus on what really matters. “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” St. Paul is not trying to get us to bury our heads in the sand or to have a “keep on the sunny side” attitude of ignorance. He is calling us, in times of hardship, to focus on what is honorable and good in the world. One of these institutions we should be able to trust in is family. As we gather on this Family weekend, we are reminded that when the wealth of this world fails and the world seems to be coming down around us, we, Christians, seek the seat of true wisdom and goodness and are reminded that we need to lean on each other throughout our life and let God be in charge.