27TH Sunday in Ordinary Time
"Hear another parable" (Mt. 21:33-43).
The parable in this Sunday's gospel has various lessons. One lesson is recognizing the goodness of God, the Creator/Landowner, who planted a vineyard. The Landowner placed a hedge around the land to protect it from animals and dug a winepress. By building a tower for security, the Landowner ensured that no thief could steal or damage the property. But, wait there is more.
The Landowner leased his bountiful land with the agreement that the tenants give him the produce at harvest time. The tenants never showed credentials nor paperwork proving their skillsets. It was like money falling from the sky. How sweet was that? Their sole responsibility was similar to Adam, "Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth..." (Gen. 1:28-30).
The tenant's responsibility was to care for the land. Unfortunately, greed led to violence as the tenants decided to steal from the Landowner. They refused to maintain the original agreement. The Landowner sent servants to collect the produce.
But the tenants seized the servants, and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. The first lesson is this: don't allow greed and violence to wreck your relationship with God's goodness. "A greedy man brings trouble to his family" (Pr. 15:27).
The next lesson concerning Culturalism disturbs me. When I reflect on history in the United States, this parable reminded me of the indigenous natives who cultivated this land before the settlers arrived. The Native Americans welcomed pioneers without any hostility and even showed them survival skills. All the settlers had to do was be thankful. But greed entered their veins. The foreign wanderers were like the tenants in our parable; they too, beat, killed, and stoned the Native Americans.
St. John Paul II spoke to the Native peoples of America about their encounter with America's adventurers in 1987. Passionately he said:
The early encounter between your traditional cultures
and the European way of life was an event of such
significance and change that it profoundly influences
your collective life even today. That encounter was a
harsh and painful reality for your peoples. The cultural
oppression, the injustices, the disruption of your life
and of your traditional societies must be acknowledged.
And when you look at their collective life today, 33 years later, their lives remain disrupted by insufficient water, lack of food, high unemployment, and of course, COVID 19. The second lesson is that the United States and the Church must confront the reality of their rejection of this culture. Indigenous natives are part of the body of Christ. "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, [Native Americans], and we were all given to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13).
The second lesson is that the United States and the Church must confront the reality of their rejection of this culture. Indigenous natives are part of the body of Christ. "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, [Native Americans], and we were all given to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13).
Fortunately, there is hope. Jesus is the stone, the builder of the land, and the source of our strength. The tenants are the Pharisees and scribes; they sought rulership and economic power to lord over their people during biblical times. However, Jesus put them on notice. "I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit."
The third lesson is that those who think to shrug their responsibility of caring for God's land are mistaken. God will have the final word. "Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows" (Gal. 6:7). For this reason, we must remember that in this country that we call the United States, the Native American people are the cornerstone of this country. Without these indigenous natives who loved this country first, we would not be present today.
Therefore, it is incumbent that we rewrite our history books by first changing the narrative of Christopher Columbus. We must work toward restoring Native Americans' rich heritage by embracing their stories. Laws enacted must meet their daily needs: health care, financial empowerment, strong academics, and meaningful relationships where we as people accept this community as "Children of God." Ultimately, many of us are walking with some Native blood and mirroring the image of God.
"... in the United States, there are Catholic Native Americans or Alaska Natives exploring what it means to be both Catholic and Native. The largest organization of Catholic Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States is the Tekakwitha Conference. For almost 100 years the Tekakwitha Conference has been bringing together Natives and those who minister with Natives to explore all aspects of Catholic Native ministry including Catholic Native urban ministry." (Father Michael Carson Catholic Standard 2020)
Anyone who would like to get involved in ministry with Native Americans, please contact Ansel Augustine, the executive director of Cultural Diversity and Outreach for the Archdiocese of Washington, by emailing him at AugustineA@adw.org.
Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, MACS