This weekend we celebrate baptisms in our parish. And this weekend we celebrate those catechists who teach us about our faith in Jesus Christ. What a gift it is to receive new life in Christ through baptism! What an incredible richness it is to continue learning about the mystery of this new life in Christ. The mystery isn’t difficult for us to understand. It is all summed up in God’s immense love and mercy for us. The mystery opens up for us continually when we love God and neighbor in return.
For these little ones who we baptize this weekend, let us think about what we want them to inherit from the church. Parents promise to be the first and best teachers of the faith. Which, of course, implies that parents have an obligation to continue learning and growing in our faith in Jesus. And as a Church, we have an obligation to one another – creating a culture of worship and learning and service in our parish so that these little ones will inherit a lively church full of people who truly love God and one another.
Jesus describes this relationship with God in the parable from Matthew 20. It is an odd parable at first glance, but one that is quite profound once we get into it. So let’s explore what it teaches us about the faith we receive and hand on to our children.
Let’s begin with an example. Ladies, consider the good husband for you. He is one who is kind and tender towards you, but tough enough with the outside world to keep your home safe. He is willing to sacrifice for you, and quite frankly, he would die for you if necessary to protect you. As a contrast, what about the guy who wants to marry you for your money or your looks and whatever else he can get out of the relationship with you. And if you don’t produce the way he wants, he leaves for something else.
Or let’s consider the good friend. That person is kind, considerate, generous, and accepting. They are a friend even in times of trouble, and love us even when we are at our worst. As a contrast how about hanging out with shallow people who will only stick around when it is fun, but will gossip about you and stab you in the back if it helps them get ahead.
I think we get the idea. The good relationship is based on a self-sacrificial kind of love. The other relationships are more like mercenaries who use other people for their selfish ambitions.
The parable of the landowner opens this idea for us. The landowner is the Lord. He comes to us and finds us, inviting us to this great project of building up the kingdom – with this image of laborers in the vineyard. Some are called early to help, and some are called later in the day. The landowner offers even the latecomers a great generosity with a full day’s pay. And he offers the all-dayers the same good reward. But some of the all-dayers grumbled that it wasn’t fair.
In the parable Jesus illustrates a problem that many people have in their relationship with God by way of contrast. Jesus himself offered the perfect example of love of God and neighbor. Remember when Jesus said this; “greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends.” And so Jesus laid down his life for us – he was willing to suffer the humiliating and painful death of the cross - for us. He didn’t gain anything out of that gift except the outpouring of his blood just like the outpouring of his love.
The grumblers in the parable did not exercise mutual love or gratitude. Instead they treated their relationship with the landowner as one that made them more like a mercenary than a friend. They wanted what they could get out of it for their own gain. This is the problem that we sometimes have in relating with God. We treat him more like a sugar daddy. We want to have what we can get out of him.
So let’s bring it down to the here and now. The mercenary comes to Mass hoping to be entertained or maybe to punch their Sunday obligation “hell-fire insurance card.” And if the music or the preacher or the altar servers or whoever or whatever else doesn’t tickle their fancy they become bored or angry. They are here for what they can get out of it. They aren’t interested in Christian service. They don’t want to learn anything new. They are spiritually shallow and so the word of God doesn’t take root in them. And when the going gets tough they leave for the next thing that tickles their fancy.
But the true friend of Jesus comes to Mass to offer themselves in love to Our Lord and to one another. They are ready to worship and give it their all. They are ready to be formed by the Word of God, to learn and to grow spiritually. They are ready to be transformed by the Eucharist into the loving image of Jesus. They are willing to give their lives in love and humble service. These people would even give their lives as martyrs for the love of Jesus and of his Church.
Perhaps all of us struggle with our inner mercenary. And hopefully all of us want to be that faithful disciple of Jesus. So the question before us is this: in the end, what will we have chosen? And what will we teach our children to choose?
I pray that our answer will lead us to be the church that Jesus needs us to be. A church with a dynamic culture of worship and service. A church that leads many people to a saving and sacramental relationship with Jesus and with his Church. A church that shows us how to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. A Church that brings about the kingdom of heaven here on earth, and shows us all the way to God.