FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
My dear encountered couples:
Two brothers went “treat-or-tricking” and collected some eggs. The elder said to his younger brother, “I will give you one dollar if you let me break three eggs on your head.” The little boy knew it was going to be a painful experience, but because he needed the dollar he agreed. The bigger boy then went on to break an egg on his brother's head. His brother took it with an “Ouch!”
Then he broke the second egg on his little brother's head. This time it really hurt and his little brother cried out in pain. But the young lad was determined to get his dollar. So, he braced himself for the third and last egg, but his older brother walked away laughing. “Come on, bring on the third egg,” said the little boy. “Nope!” said the bigger brother, “I don't wanna lose my dollar.”
One could dismiss the story as kids playing pranks, but there is something more serious going on here. It is called breach of contract. We are talking about the sense of responsibility, the recognition that every privilege we enjoy comes with a price tag. Like the big brother in our story, some people go about trying to take advantage of others, of the society, and even of God.
We see that in the parable of the rebellious farm managers in today's gospel, who enjoy the benefits that accrue to them as managers but withhold the benefits that should go to the landowner. Think of the story that was in the media some time back about some Nigerian women who seized the facilities of an oil drilling company complaining that these companies enrich themselves from their land without giving back anything to the owners of the land.
Today's gospel calls for responsibility and accountability in our dealings with God, which include our dealings with our fellow human beings. Jesus directed the parable at the Jewish leadership of his day. The parable has a lot to teach us about stewardship. As such it has very important lessons for church leaders in particular but also for all of God's people in general.
We all have at least received life from God. Life is given to us in trust. We are expected to cultivate and manage this life in such a way that it bears good fruit - fruit that we can present to God the owner of our lives on the day of reckoning.
The parable teaches us a lot about God and how God relates to us. First, we see the PROVIDENCE of God. “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower” (Matthew 21:33a). Before God entrusts a responsibility to you, He makes provision for all that you will need in carrying out the responsibility.
“Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country” (verse 33b). This shows God's TRUST in us. God does not stand looking over our shoulders, policing us to make sure we do the right thing. God leaves the job to us and goes on vacation to a far country, so to say. God trusts that we will do the right thing. Unfortunately, many of us don't.
The story also highlights God's PATIENCE with us. God sends messenger after messenger to the rebellious managers who would not render to God what is His due. With each messenger, God provides another chance for us to put an end to rebellion and do the right thing.
Finally, there comes a last chance. God plays His last card and sends His only son. If we miss this last chance, then we've missed it. In the end we see God's JUDGMENT in which rebellious humanity lose their very lives, and their privileges are transferred to others who are more promising. The picture is that of a provident, trusting, patient, but also just God.
From this we can learn a lot about ourselves and how we stand in relation to God. First, we see human PRIVILEGE. Like the managers of the vineyard, everything we have is a privilege and not a merit. This is what we mean when we say that everything is God's grace. Grace is unmerited favor. Another word for this is privilege. Life itself is a privilege which can be taken away from any of us at any moment.
Privilege comes, however, with RESPONSIBILITY. We are ultimately responsible and accountable to God for the way we use or abuse our God-given privileges.
God has given us all that we need to make a judicious use of all our privileges, yet we retain the ability to abuse them. This is called FREEDOM.
The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, as it is called, is a parable on the misuse of human freedom. Let us today pray for the wisdom and the courage never to abuse our privileges but rather to make a judicious use of all the privileges and opportunities that God gives us.