Sermons from St Faith's   

Heaven and Earth

Paula O'Shaughnessy, Sunday 21st October, 2018

The constant endeavour we make to encounter God.  We seek him in prayer, in worship, in our daily lives. We struggle to understand the nature of God and where he is in all of this. At times we feel so far from knowing God, or how to find the Kingdom of Heaven, we poor banished children of Eve.

In the dedicated lives of the religious, they devote many hours to encountering God.  When I worked at the convent home for the elderly, in Aberdeen I glimpsed this first hand. The sisters attending prayers in the church, to say the Divine Office, and our Sister would lead daily rosary devotions with the catholic residents. In the religious life, there is the constant devotion and search for God, and the daily remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice which Jesus made with his life, to save mankind – a ransom.

In the joyful mystery of the rosary – the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the prayers include the passage from Luke's Gospel, the Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis. As Simeon takes Jesus into his arms he praises God and declares that Jesus is the Messiah, but that he will suffer for the many. Simeon's words resonate with today's Old Testament reading from Isaiah
In Isaiah, we hear of the coming of the Messiah – to be the saviour of the people of Israel and suffering servant. He is compared to the sacrificial lamb. We are told:
By a perversion of justice he was taken away...
    ….he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people'

Isaiah's prophecy defies the hopes the Jewish people have of a leader of temporal power and strength.  Likewise, in Mark's Gospel, the disciples James and John misunderstand the nature of Jesus and what it means to be his followers. They too believe that there will be earthly power bestowed by Jesus upon his followers. Jesus warns them that this is not the nature of the power he offers. It is a bitter cup of suffering – giving his life as a ransom for many, and there is no equivocation in this.

A little later, In chapter 12 of Mark, Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants – who try to seize the vineyard by murderous force, against the owner's servants and son. Jesus warns the chief priests, the scribes and the elders at the Temple, of what will happen to the wicked tenants – that the owner will destroy them and give the vineyard to others. This is at once a warning to the Jewish leaders and a further indication of the treachery which Jesus faces.

The parable of the wicked tenants is also a recognisable reference to Isaiah, Chapter 5, which uses a vineyard metaphor to talk about Israel.

In Isaiah, it is the combination of exploitation of the poor and wayward living that results in poor grape harvests within the vineyard.  Neglect of the people and the land.

When Jesus warns the Jewish leaders through parables, he knows that they already know their own failings, their falling out with God, since the banishment from the garden – for it has already been told to them through the prophets, such as Isaiah.  In the Jewish tradition, the leaders would outwardly follow the law of Moses, and to make up for any transgressions, there would be the practice of animal sacrifice.  This to take the burden of sin from the person, making the sacrifice.  Jesus, in his ultimate self-sacrifice upon the cross transcends the old traditions and customs of Jewish religion.

The parable of the wicked tenants is a warning too of the corrupting nature of power.  Some interpretrations of the story understand the tenants to be the oppressed peasants and the vineyard owner to be a mere man, who exploits the poor.  We certainly know that earthly power corrupts and how violence begets violence. 

The clear message is that Jesus comes to save, and he rejects all violence.

In this world today we know of and see and hear much that is wicked, corrupt and wrong.  It is sometimes acts by individuals working in isolation.  At other times, it is a systemic network of self-interests, and others going along with the status quo either through fear or apathy.

The call to prayer and reading of scripture is a wake up call.  The soul and the consciousness can then turn towards God.  But this cannot be done in a vacuum.  The life of prayer and the spirit is here on the earth.  As followers of Jesus, we do not know what demands may be made of us, to live as true Christians.  In prayer and reading scripture, we may draw strength.  But we must wait upon God for him to make known what sacrifice is asked of us.

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