Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43
A mother ran into the bedroom when she heard her seven-year-old son scream. She found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, “There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts.” He nodded his acknowledgement, and she left the room. As she started down the hall the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, “What happened?” The little boy replied, “She knows now.”
We live in a violent world. And that is a tragedy, because violence tends to grow. When one person attacks another, it is likely that the person who is attacked will strike back. Soon it is one blow after another in an increasing cycle of pain and anger. In short order, the only option seems to be retaliation. Even though everyone knows that retaliation will be of benefit to no one and will only make things worse. Look at the Middle East. Its history is a continuing cycle of violence. The parties are so wounded and afraid that dialogue and compromise seem to be off the table. There are only more bombings and deaths. Look at so many families in our country, where communication and conflict resolution are replaced by verbal or physical abuse. Living in such violence becomes routine. Once violence finds a foothold in a political situation or in a family, it begets further violence. It becomes the automatic response. It becomes a way of living.
We all witnessed from last Sunday night into Monday morning with the worst mass-shooting in U.S. history that took place in Las Vegas. 59 innocent lives ended; more than 500 lives traumatized, most in life-changing ways; and an entire country left asking the so-far unanswered question: “Why?!” Once again, in the midst of such evil and darkness of one individual, the goodness, heroism, and selflessness of hundreds and thousands of good people who were the first responders, the human “guardian angels” who ran into the danger to help save lives, is much more impressive than the cowardly act of violence. Let us continue to pray for the victims of violence in Las Vegas.
Today’s parable of the vineyard is a parable about violence. It is presenting God’s attitude toward it. God, as usual, is the owner of the vineyard. The vineyard is this world. It is a violent world in which the tenants continually beat and kill one another. What is the owner to do with this violent vineyard? He decides to send his son. Now this at first seems like a foolish idea. Why would you send your son, someone that you love, into such a dangerous place? But the choice of the owner is the real point of the parable. This parable is telling us what God has done for us. God has sent his son into our world to end the violence of the vineyard. The church has always interpreted this parable as a description of Jesus’ mission, of his death and resurrection. This parable tells us that Jesus came to end the violence of the world not by more violence but by non-violence. Not by striking back but by handing over his life. Not by compounding violence but by absorbing it.
The death of Jesus means many things. But one of the things it means is that Jesus submitted to the violence of the cross rather than increase the violence of the vineyard. God is telling us that the violence of our world will not be defeated by further violence but only by sacrifice and love. We know that Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek. We know that he commands us to love our enemies. But we can forget that his very cross is a sign for us. He who had the ultimate power to confront violence with more violence, instead chose to absorb violence in order to end it.
Now Jesus’ victory over the violence of this world is still very much in progress, and of course we are called to assist him in attaining it. We are challenged to absorb the violence around us rather than to spread it. This cannot mean that we accept abuse or remain in violent situations that harm us. But it does mean that we refuse to respond to violence with more violence. We are called to support political solutions of dialogue and forgiveness. We refuse to be violent people in our family, in our workplace, and in our relationships.
There can be times where a violent response is justified as a defense. But even in those circumstances the violence we use will beget more violence. This is why Jesus challenges us not to feed violence but to starve it. Not to respond in kind—to reject every violent word and action. We are to walk away from the monster rather than to inflame it. This is not the way of the world. But it is the way of Jesus. His very cross is a sign of his non-violent gospel. Today we are challenged to take up that cross and follow him.