October 5, 2017

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 8, 2017, Year A

The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut


You’ve seen the three “wise monkeys,” representing the injunctions to “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” We find a similar idea in a passage from Isaiah, which describes the person who “walks righteously and speaks honestly” as one “who stops his ears so as not to hear of bloodshed, who closes his eyes so as not to look on evil.” (Is 33:15)

St. Paul expresses very nearly the same thought today in his letter to the Philippians when he recommends that they focus on “whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, worthy of praise.” By implication, we are encouraged to turn our thoughts away from the opposites of all these things. This kind of placid spirit is appealing, easy to take.

Unfortunately (or maybe not), the reading from St. Paul comes sandwiched between two much more challenging readings. First, the Prophet Isaiah is far from placid as, through him, God complains about his “friend” whose professionally cultivated vineyard produced wild grapes. And Jesus is likewise far from placid as he warns the chief priests and elders what lies in store for them because of their failure to deliver the fruits expected of them.

We could, of course, “stop our ears” and “close our eyes” to these unpleasant sayings. Is that what St. Paul proposes? No. Neither does Isaiah 33:15. Neither do the monkeys.

The point is to have nothing to do with evil, to refuse to listen to any proposal of evildoing, to turn away from temptation. It is not an invitation to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the evil that is around us and shelter ourselves from anything unpleasant.

The parable of the wicked tenants, like many of the parables, is a warning directed originally to a specific audience but preserved in the Scriptures as a cautionary tale for each generation of believers. We may say the same of Isaiah’s image of the vineyard.

In the latter case, we are expected to produce good fruits in proportion to all the care that God has expended on us. In the former, we are expected to make a return to God from what he has entrusted to us. (Homework: compare and contrast this with the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30.)

This means we actually need to keep our eyes and ears open, to be aware of the evil (and the good) in our world, and to speak out when necessary. We don’t all have to become investigative reporters. We don’t all have the prophetic vocation of Isaiah. But we may not, must not simply yield to the temptation seek our own tranquility in the midst of the chaos, violence and injustice that surround us and affect so many persons near and far. (Even cloistered Monk and Nuns don’t do that. They separate themselves from the world, not for their own comfort, but in order to devote themselves to a life of intense prayer for the world.)

Now just so we don’t become distraught at this prospect, let me point out that there is a sort of double sandwich in today’s readings. Besides the order of the three readings, the passage I summarized above from the Letter to the Philippians is itself contained between two references to God and peace: first, “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” and then, “The God of peace will be with you.”

I am reminded of Micah 5:4, “He shall be peace.” To be in a positive relationship with God is to have genuine peace, and vice versa, almost as if they were one and the same. We must do whatever we can to restore that peace if it has been lost, or protect it where it has been endangered.

This is not mere peace and quiet. It gives us courage and confidence to face the world and its evils. If the God of peace is with us and the peace of God indeed guards our hearts and minds, we may find that we have—again in Paul’s words— “no anxiety at all.”

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