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Problem or Solution?
There’s a saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” I used to say when I was president of another school in the Chicago area, “Don’t just bring me a problem, bring me some solutions.”
Today Jesus, in a way, is kind of speaking of this very same truth. We get two parallel stories that are quite similar. In the first story, it is God telling a story about the people who have gone astray at a time when things are not very good at all. We see in this first reading that despite all that God has done, the people don’t care.
And Isaiah says to them, “Things are not going to be good. They’re not going to be very wonderful at all. God is going to take this vineyard, namely your kingdom, your life, from you.” And we know, as we read the story of the Old Testament, that’s true. They wind up in exile in Babylon. Both kingdoms fall.
It’s not a happy time for the people of God. Jesus tells a very similar story with a pointed message. He is talking in particular to those who have not accepted His Word, and in particular, those who should have known better because they were the religious leaders of the people. They should have seen the signs that Jesus was performing and immediately begun to recognize the fulfillment of the promise in the Old Testament.
But they do not. We either can work to build up the kingdom of God, or we can be vehicles to tear it down. The building up is not easy at all. It’s not something that immediately seems like a good thing to do sometimes.
See, the Gospel is very demanding about these things. Building up the kingdom of God means first and foremost living in a way that we demonstrate our love for God and our love for our neighbor. We can love God, I think sometimes, because that seems very abstract, not very concrete. My neighbor? Not always as easy.
I suspect we all have people in our lives that we can identify that are not so easy for us to care for. They either get under our nerves and they know exactly what buttons to push to get us upset, or they’re people when we read about what they do in the newspaper or listen to it on television, we get an understanding that they are not living a very virtuous life, at least from the actions that we hear about.
Now the interesting thing about this person that might get under our skin is I suspect that there are other people, maybe not here, who would point to us and say, “That person really gets under my skin. They just know how to push my buttons. They don’t always give a good example. That’s me. I may be the one that’s not always giving a good example. I might be the one who is sinning in my life, not living the virtues that God has called me to live.
It’s especially difficult when it’s a situation that we hear in the Gospel. I think the biggest reason that the Pharisees didn’t want to listen to Jesus was not because they weren’t good people. They knew the Law very well. They recognized that things were so bad around them that the solution was to pull back so so that they could be surrounded by people that they believed were following the Law completely.
But what happened in the midst of this exercise that they engaged in is that the Law, the rules, became more important than the Law giver. In other words, doing all of the things that God commanded became more important than God.
Because the other thing that we know from reading the Gospels is that they’re not completely following every rule. There are some they like better than others. There are some they don’t care about as much. There are some that quite honestly make things a little bit more difficult for them.
And so what Jesus is getting at in today’s gospel is that yes, it’s easy to follow God’s way when God only asks us to do all those things we’ve already decided we’re going to do. It gets much more difficult when we’re talking about having to do what God wants, when God wants from us something that is not what we want.
When God calls us to do something that cuts against the grain for us, maybe it means loving the enemy because that’s what Jesus tells us to do. Maybe it means praying for those who persecute us because that’s what Jesus tells us to do. Maybe it means living life in a way that is simple, so that we really demonstrate our trust in God and His way of life. Maybe it means looking out for that person that’s been in need on the side of the road, beaten and left for dead like the Samaritan did, when we don’t feel much like doing that.
The question I think to ask today is, when was the last time in your life you felt called by God to do something that you did not want to do? Think about that question for a minute. When was the last time you felt you were called by God to do something you did not want to to do? And if it’s hard to recall such a time, then maybe we’re not listening to the voice of God, but we’re listening to our own voice.
The Gospel is hard. It’s not meant for the faint of heart. But here’s the message of the second reading, and I won’t go into it in great detail, but really, if we look at what God wants us to do and how God wants us to live and the love that God wants us to have for not just a few neighbors, but all neighbors, which Jesus tells us in the story of the Good Samaritan, quite frankly, is everybody. But God gives us the grace to do so. It isn’t just that God tells us what to do. God also enables us to do it if we receive His grace.
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