Sunday reflection for October 4, 2020 by John Rietschlin
I’m sure that over the past week or so, you have been noticing the changing colors in the trees and the beautiful fall sunsets. While Covid19 has caused much suffering, for many it has also created a space to slow down and to be more mindful of the beauty of creation. Last Sunday, my wife Donna and I cycled one of the many great bike paths in the National Capitol Region, just savoring this wonderful gift. And it seems that my FaceBook feed has become a steady stream of photos shared by friends of colorful landscapes, trees, flowers, birds and wildlife that have touched their spirits.
In our Catholic parishes this weekend, we’re gathering together to mark the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time. However, for many Christians, and others, October 4th is more likely to be noted as the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. This widely venerated and loved patron saint of animals lived and worked in Italy in the early 13th century, but his influence extends far beyond that time and place. For example, in 1979, Pope John Paul II recognized him as the patron saint of ecology.
The Feast of St. Francis is important in another way as it also marks the end of the yearly “Season of Creation” which we at St. Joe’s have been observing since it began on September 1. The Season of Creation is the time of year when the world’s 2.2 billion Christians are invited to pray and care for creation.
While the scripture texts for today’s liturgy were not specifically chosen in link with the Season of Creation, it seems to me that we can readily see in these readings how God is speaking to us about our responsibility to care for and nurture the earth and one another.
When the prophet Isaiah originally sang this love song of God for his vineyard, the song was referring to God’s beloved people of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. In the allegory of the vineyard that failed to produce good grapes, Isaiah makes it clear that the chosen people have not lived the lives of justice and righteousness that God expected of a people blessed so richly. The consequence of this failure will be a catastrophic destruction of their home.
We hear in Matthew’s gospel how, nearly 800 years later, Jesus builds on this allegory of the vineyard, showing the religious leaders of his day that they are equally guilty of failing to care for those entrusted to them…the chosen people, the poor and, the weak who are God’s precious vineyard. And they will be guilty even of killing the vineyard owner’s Son, God the Father’s messenger—rejecting his call to live humbly and justly.
But what does all of this have to do with the Season of Creation, you may ask? To answer this question, I need to bring in another modern document—Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si.
From the time of its initial publication, five years ago, Laudato Si has inspired ever growing numbers of Christians and others with a renewed sense of responsibility for our shared home—the earth. One of the important insights of Laudato Si is that the care for the earth and the care for our fellow human beings and all creatures are inextricably linked. Social justice and environmental justice are two sides of the same coin.
Simply put, if we destroy the land or the forests or pollute the water which people need to have food, clothing and a decent livelihood we are violating both social and environmental justice. When, as a human society, we consume more than the world can sustainably produce or fill the air with greenhouse gases, we are collectively destroying the habitat on which we all depend.
So, Isaiah’s lament for the people of Judah–the vineyard that was not producing good grapes—is very much for us today. Jesus’ allegory of the wicked servants who killed the son of the vineyard owner is a call to us to re-examine our own behaviour. In Laudato Si Pope Francis urgently calls all of us to pray for and with creation; to live more simply; and to advocate to protect our common home. Doing so will help all of us to live more justly and sustainably on this earth, our planetary home.
This week…I invite each of us to take a few extra moments to rejoice in the beauty of creation—perhaps a tree resplendent in autumn color, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, an act of kindness by a stranger, a starry night, an inspiring musical composition. Second, I invite each of us to consider signing the Laudato Si Pledge- 1) Pray for and with Creation; 2) to Live more simply; and 3) to advocate to protect our common home. (I have provided a link to that pledge here: Laudato Si Pledge)
Then, having signed the pledge, let us act upon it. In doing so, we will all be part of God’s vineyard, producing much fruit for the benefit of all.