•Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Several months ago a comment in the Missoulian said, “The time for debate is over. The overwhelming evidence establishes that climate change is not only here but it is accelerating and is changing our quality of life on the planet.” You may or may not agree with the sentiments of that writer. I borrow the quote simply to set the direction for this homily.
We cannot be certain Jesus spoke this parable of “the murderous tenants.” It is probable that Matthew and his community of Jewish Christians had been expelled from the synagogues. Now he included this parable in his gospel encouraging his community to do what needs to be done to bear good fruit and to affirm his communities claim to be the true Israel.
This explains why the parable is harsh. I struggled to connect the parable with our lived experience asking what does it say to us?
I finally found a way to clarify what this parable may be saying to us today. My connection is climate change. In several homilies since May I referred to a text from the book of Job. I return to that text again today. I think it can help us hear this parable in a new and fresh way.
“Ask the beasts and they will teach you; the birds of the air and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of every human being.”
Job invites us to step outside of our presumption of human superiority. In many complex ways the beasts, birds, plants and fish are dependent on each other and we humans as well.
An invitation has gone out from many scientists, sounding the alarm about climate change. They may be wrong but all the evidence says they are correct. Meanwhile many politicians, CEO’s of major corporations and those who depend upon those corporations prefer to deny the possibility of climate change. Indifferent to the common good, their focus is a society structured around the interests of the rich and powerful.
I know it may be stretching the parable of “the murderous tenants” far beyond Matthew’s original intention. However I think just the idea of climate change makes it possible to hear this parable describing our own situation. In the parable the workers want to be the owners. They are obsessed with becoming the sole proprietors and employ any means to achieve their dream.
Listen to current political slogans. Deep in the rhetoric of both parties you will hear unrestrained desire and determination to acquire and increase more personal wealth and the means to protect it. Such desire alienates individuals and turns them against each other. Rivalry and competition become higher priorities than solidarity, mutual service and the common good of all.
It is obvious when politicians and CEO’s choose denial. Most ordinary folks do not realize “we in the human family have crossed a threshold into a new moment of human history.” We humans are “ravaging the world of life.” The examples are many. One is invisible – our huge stockpile and continued manufacture of nuclear warheads. The other is more visible — every day locomotives haul a massive amount of coal through our city that will generate electricity in China and more pollution in our atmosphere.
Job counsels us to set aside our presumption of human superiority and listen to the beasts, birds, plants and fish. As we do so it becomes increasingly clear our planetary home does not belong to us exclusively. We humans are part of the great tree of life, totally dependent on and responsible to all the other branches of the tree. In this parable Jesus speaks a warning. A society can reap only the fruits it has planted. “God’s new reality” is emerging but will continue only as people and societies produce the fruits of the kingdom. The fruits of “God’s kingdom” are solidarity, community, mutual service, mercy, compassion and justice for the least among us. Listen to the beasts, the birds, the plants and the fish of the sea! They will agree.