Thousands and thousands of books are just waiting for you—and you can borrow as many books as you can read…all for free. All you have to do is bring them back by their due date, and return them in the condition you received them. What a privilege…
Unfortunately, many people enjoy this privilege but cast to the wind the responsibility it requires.
A friend of mine who’s a librarian once told me of a patron who brought up a large stack of books to check out. My friend told her that she had a number of overdue books, and that she had to return those books and pay the fines before she could check out any others. To say the least, the patron did not take the news well… After screaming at the librarian, calling her a “thief” and “a liar,” the patron slapped her across the face and stormed out of the building.
She gladly enjoyed the privilege of borrowing books at no cost—but she absolutely refused the responsibility that came with that privilege. This is exactly what we see happening in the parable Jesus tells in our Gospel for today.
A landowner leases his vineyard to some tenants and goes off to another country.
These tenants received some incredible privileges with this lease. In return for their labor, the tenants would be entitled to a share of their harvest. This was no ordinary vineyard they were leasing—it came complete with a fence, a wine press, and a watchtower. They had the potential to make a lot of money working on a vineyard like this. Naturally, these privileges came with certain responsibilities… Besides the obvious duty of tending the vineyard, they were responsible for rendering to the landowner his share of the harvest.
The landowner certainly had authority over his vineyard—and over the tenants. But that’s not how the tenants saw it. Their authority was themselves—and their number one concern was the big money they were making from the vineyard. The landowner was a nuisance who got in the way of their selfish desires. So when the landowner sends his slaves—and even his own son to collect his share of the harvest—they had to be dealt with. They beat and murder to get what they want.
I wish I could say similar things don’t happen in our world—but they do. We love our privileges—but how often we enjoy them without responsibility….
We have the privilege of driving (as so often our parents and drivers’ ed teachers have reminded us). But we aren’t patient with other drivers; we deliberately disobey the traffic laws and put others’ safety at risk… We just want to get where we’re going as quickly as we can—and all the other drivers and pedestrians are in the way.
One of our society’s great ills is that we treat our privileges as personal entitlements to be exploited solely for our benefit. We forget our privileges are just that—privileges… We’re too busy thinking about ourselves to think of those who don’t have these same privileges. We don’t care about how our getting what we want affects other people. We demand satisfaction—and we don’t tolerate anything—or anyone—that would stand in the way.
What we’re seeing here is sin, alive and well in our society—and in each of us. Sin is far more than just the bad things we do. Sin is a heart condition—our hearts and minds being so self-centered that we refuse to be responsible to anyone other than ourselves. It is sin that makes God into a divine ATM machine, who should give us all the things we want because we believe we deserve them. At the same time, it is sin that that flat-out rejects God’s authority over ourselves and the privileges we enjoy. We love God when God gives us what we want. But when God dares claim our selves, our possessions, and our futures, God becomes a nuisance…
Make no mistake about it—we are a privileged people. From the moment God created us, we have been God’s beloved. We are claimed as God’s own sons and daughters and washed clean of our sin. We receive eternal life apart from our own merit. God delights in our enjoyment of all of the good gifts we receive.
Our privileges are given by God for our benefit—but for God’s purposes. Let me say that again. Our privileges are given by God for our benefit—but for God’s purposes. They are not entitlements. They are entrustments. God’s gifts have been entrusted to us, in order that we would use them to do the work of God’s kingdom. That is our responsibility. And one of the most basic responsibilities of living for God is living for others.
How blind we become when we’re so consumed with meeting our own selfish desires that we fail to realize the truth—that God’s purposes are good. Isaiah reminds us in today’s first reading that God’s purpose is establishing righteousness and justice on the earth. God’s purpose is meeting all forms of human need; establishing peace where there is division; creating hope where there is despair. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading that God’s purpose for all persons is that they would attain the resurrection from the dead. It is God’s will that each of us has a direct role in everything God is doing for us and for the world.
For Paul, anything in his life that would stand in the way of God’s good purposes Paul calls rubbish. I wish I could honestly say as Paul says. All I can do is lament how often I’ve treated my fulfilling my responsibilities to God like taking out the garbage—something that’s unpleasant and unrewarding, but necessary…
Today’s Gospel is a harsh warning that we must all take seriously—if you want to live without God; if you insist on living only for yourself, you’ll get what you want. If we throw God out of our lives like a piece of garbage, God will leave us to ourselves.
However, if you know in your heart that you are guilty of rejecting God, know that God hasn’t rejected you. God doesn’t reject people. God gives you a Savior. In Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. God doesn’t care about your past, because the past has been washed in forgiveness. God stands ready to give you a new beginning. God is here to walk with you into a future in which you will witness God’s promises being fulfilled before your eyes. We’re fools if we think we know what’s best for us. Walk with God you and will discover how exceedingly greater it is to serve Jesus Christ than to serve ourselves.
We are eternally privileged to be daughters and sons of God. Our minds simply cannot comprehend the value of all of the treasures God gives us in Jesus Christ. But with these privileges comes responsibility: and our responsibility is to give to God our everything. We are responsible for surrendering our lives into God’s purposes for the universe. This is a day-to-day challenge. But we surrender through the grace and love God pours upon us each and every day. God’s grace will help us to move forward. The journey toward eternal life begins today—and there is so much more of God’s grace to be experienced on the way there.
So I ask you—what treasures can be gained here on earth that could possibly compare with a life lived in the promises of Jesus Christ?