Defending our Vineyard from our Enemy’s Servants

Today’s parable has a straight-forward interpretation: God is the landowner. He establishes his people Israel like a man who sets up a vineyard. God entrusted the care of his vineyard to the chief priests and elders of the people. They are the tenants. Then God sent his servants – the prophets – to obtain the good harvest. But the Jewish leaders resisted and persecuted the prophets; sometimes beating them, sometimes killing them, sometimes stoning them. Finally, God, in the crazy twist to our story, sends his own Son to them. The chief priests and the elders will go on to seize Jesus, condemn him, and see to it that he is taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and killed on a cross. “Therefore,” Jesus says to them, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” The authority of the Jewish leaders will be handed over to the Apostles and priests of Jesus’ New Covenant Church; a Church that will baptize and embrace Jews and Gentiles alike, forming a new people in Christ who will produce much fruit.

That is the straight-forward meaning of Jesus’ tale, but I would like to turn your attention back to those wicked tenants in the parable, because they, in a certain way, can serve as an example for us. Now I would not dare to suggest such a thing – I would fear it being scandalous to use the wicked as a Christian example – if Jesus himself had not once used a dishonest steward as someone we could learn from.

As you may recall, the dishonest steward, knowing that he would soon be losing his job, wrote off the debts of his boss’ debtors so that, once he got fired, these new friends of his would welcome him into their homes. Jesus used the shrewdness of this bad man as an example to teach his disciples to ‘make friends for yourselves with the wealth of this world, so that, when these passing things fail one day, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ Likewise, I believe we have something valuable to learn from the shrewdness of the vineyard’s wicked tenants in today’s parable.

What if, when the servants of the landowner had arrived at the vineyard, the tenants did not promptly beat them, kill them, or stone them? Imagine if the tenants, instead of turning them out, welcomed the servants’ arrival; giving them food to eat and somewhere to stay on the grounds. Now the wicked tenants’ prior plans to never deliver any of the harvest to the landowner would still be in place, but can you imagine what might happen to their resolve over time?

The good servants staying with the tenants would keep speaking with them so kindly and pleasantly and persuasively, encouraging them to do the right thing. The good servants would encourage the tenants to imagine their possible reward: “If you do what is just, our good master will be even more generous with you! If you will not give him the total amount, could you perhaps give him the least little bit? Surely that wouldn’t hurt and it wouldn’t cost you very much.” If allowed to stay, the servants may well convince the tenants to give up some or all of what they have. However, if the tenants wish to remain faithful to their original intentions, then when their enemy’s servants arrive they should be neither fed nor lodged, conversed with nor welcomed in any friendly manner, lest their persuasion change minds and hearts and plans.

There is a spiritual battle in our midst. You can hear about it on the news and see it in the headlines, hidden behind every divisive controversy and murderous atrocity. (For instance, if no demons played a role in the rise of ISIS, then the demons are not doing anything in our world these days.) But the spiritual battle in our midst is not only fought out there; it is fought within us.

How do temptations come into our minds? From our senses, what we see and hear; from our invisible spiritual enemies, the demons; from our own human brokenness; or any combination of these. However our temptations come, in whatever form they take, our response to them should be as unfriendly at their arrival as those wicked tenants were at the arrival of the landlord’s servants.

Do not welcome temptation when it arrives. Do not feed it. Do not give it a place to dwell and lodge within you. Do not converse with it. Do not fantasize at its suggestions. Do not compromise with it, not even a little. Do not allow it to change your mind, your heart, your plans. Do not befriend temptation, but violently turn it out as a servant of your enemy.

Now temptations may come in our direction even against will – sensations, sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, memories – these can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Remember that an unwilled temptation, in and of itself, is not a sin. A saint is not someone who never experiences temptation. A saint is someone who chooses what is right and good and loving even amid temptation.

What should you do when temptation comes? First, pray. Pray now, and then again when temptation arrives. Prayer opens the door to Christ and lets him take the lead in our daily lives because he respects our freewill. Pray every day and call on the Lord in times of temptation. He is stronger than all the demons put together and mightier than your weaknesses.

A second helpful thing to do regarding temptation is to change your environment. Sometimes people in confession lament to me about always confessing the same sins. I try to encourage them by pointing out, “Well, thank goodness it’s not something totally different every time: ‘Father, last month I committed arson and this week I robbed a bank! I have no clue what I might do next!‘” Human beings, for better or worse, are creatures of habit, so we can learn a lot from our repeated failures. By changing your environment can do much to avoid temptation. For example, if you’re always gossiping with the same gathering of people, then perhaps avoid that group. If you are always unchaste using the same media, then block, limit, or cut out that technology. If you always get drunk at the same establishment, then stop going there. When you have traveled the same road many times you know well where that road leads. When you find yourself walking on that road, then stop and turn around or take another path. Changing your environment can lead you away from near occasions of sin.

A third and final thing to do amid temptation is to change your focus. The human mind is made to process ideas, to chew on thoughts; we cannot think about nothing. (If I were to tell you not to think about flying alligators, I bet you couldn’t do it for sixty seconds—you’d either be thinking about flying alligators or checking to see whether you’re thinking about them.) What should you think about instead when tempted? Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, praiseworthy, think about those things, and you will persevere in doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus Christ.

Some people only think of temptation as enticements to pleasurable things. But temptation can also be towards unpleasant things, like shame, despair, fear, and anxiety. The devil not only wants you to fall, but to stay down and not get back up. And if he cannot make you fall into sin, he wants you to be neutralized and paralyzed by fear and confusion. What is the antidote for such negative temptations? St. Paul offers this prescription for anxiety: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Let’s break that down.

Have no anxiety at all.” Concern is of good use. If you were not concerned about going to church you wouldn’t come. I were not concerned about my homily then I would have nothing to say. Concern is useful, but worry is worthless. Have no anxiety at all, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” In everything, whether you are anxious or not, make your requests known to God; not because he doesn’t know, but because it opens you up to him and invites him to work. Pray prayers of praise for who he is, voice your petitions for what you need or want, and do so with thanksgiving – without which you feel impoverished and embittered despite your innumerable blessings. ‘Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding

will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.’ We do not have the big picture, long-term perspective of God to see how God will work all things for the good of those who love him, but by prayer comes a peace that surpasses our limited understanding. This peace will guard your mind and heart in Jesus Christ amid temptation.

God entrusted the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve to tend and to protect. By the devil’s temptation, they lost their great treasure. Among the many treasures Jesus has given, he has entrusted to you the vineyard of your mind. Tend it and protect it. Do not fall to temptations but drive them out as your enemy’s servants. May your vineyard remain at peace and bear much fruit in Jesus Christ.

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One Response to “Defending our Vineyard from our Enemy’s Servants”

  1. Anne Says:

    Very, very good!!! Father you articulated everything in such amazing detail. I could read the latter half of this over and over again, and I have, and I am still taking things awake from it. Definitely one to reflect upon. Thank You!

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