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Tenants of God's Vineyard

Sometimes people have something valuable and do not realise it. Only when they lost it, do they realise what they had. It is one of the most chastening experiences in life. Bereavement can be like that. There is someone you loved, and who was always there, and now is gone. There are things you would have wanted to say, wanted to do, but it is too late. The same applies to all lost relationships, even friendship. Quite simply, there are people we take for granted. This sense of losing what we had taken for granted applies even at the material level. Part of the financial shock of the world today is that we are waking up to something we had assumed. We had assumed that the good times would always be there. Now that the good times are grinding to a halt, people remember the material blessings they enjoyed and wonder why they did not use them more wisely. Many things have been taken for granted.

All this can be true at the level of faith also. Our Catholic faith tells us that God has called us into life and gives us his blessing. It tells us that God came among us in Christ and is among us still, in the Mass, in confession, in confirmation, in the sacrament of marriage. Our Catholic faith gives us a sense of community. It teaches us rituals that help us to pray more deeply, prayers that anchor us in times of distress. Being part of the church gives us hope, encourages us to many new beginnings, and lifts our horizons. And yet all this can slip between our fingers, because it can all be taken for granted. People who were taught the faith by their parents neglect to teach it to their children. People who come to church from time to time and assume that the building will always be there are shocked if it closes, even although they contributed virtually nothing to its upkeep. Faith can ebb away in a thousand cuts, and suddenly there is a sense of something missing, something that had been taken for granted.

Jesus speaks to this in the parable of the vineyard (Matt. 21.33-43). The vineyard, as our first reading from Isaiah reminds us (5.1-7), was often used in the Hebrew scriptures as an image for the people of God. The tenants begin to assume that the good things that come to them are theirs by right. They do not have to give anything back. They are there to receive, not to give. It can happen in the life of faith just as it can happen in any other avenue of life. God, his love for us and his challenges to us also, all fade into the background. For people who think like this, religion is there to give. Nothing is to be given back. In the parable, it is hinted that this kind of indifference would lead to Christ dying on the cross. But there are other tenants for the vineyard. We see this, too, even in our own day and in our own world. There are cradle Catholics who take their ancestral faith lightly, while new converts embrace joyfully the Catholic faith and its spiritual treasures. Some Catholics of British and Irish descent disdain the Church, while others coming from Africa, Asia and Latin America, find the Church a great source of blessing. The parable has uncomfortable lessons for us to ponder.

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