[Homily. First Friday. March 5, 2021]
Our proclamation today from the Gospel of St. Matthew is from the Friday of the second week in Lent. But this is also the First Friday of the month of March, when we recall God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. So let us consider this Gospel’s parable about the landowner, the tenants, the landowner’s son, and the outcome of the tenants’ murder of the son from the lens of God’s love for us and of our response to God’s love for us. In the end, the owner of the vineyard, betrayed by his tenants, entrusts his vineyard to us.
Our reading is from the Gospel of St. Matthew. If we take Matthew’s Gospel as a whole, Matthew has two basic messages: first, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ; and second, the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Kingdom of God is the object of proclamation, of prayer and of hope. The Kingdom of God is the Good News that Jesus brings; it is what he taught us to pray for; it is the Father’s dream of happiness and fulfillment for us all in his goodness and compassion; it is the dream that we have in God, our ultimate hope.
On this First Friday, we can consider The Kingdom of God from the viewpoint of God’s love. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). He expresses his love and hope for us through his incarnated Son, Jesus. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). Jesus is God’s love. His proclamation of the Kingdom of God is also a proclamation of a Kingdom of God’s Love for us all. God loves us in telling us the truth: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:3) “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Mt. 5:24b). “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap. They gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. How much more you? Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt. 6:26). God loves us in feeding us, as in the gospels he feeds the multitudes (cf. Mt.14:13-21; Jn 6). God loves us in healing us, as in the gospels he heals the sick and those possessed of evil spirits (Mt. 4: 23-25). God loves us in attacking the hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees (Mt. 23:1-36). God loves us even in weeping due to our individual and collective opposition to and rejection of his love (Lk 19:41). The most profound experience of God’s love is that of His Son’s death on his Cross, a death freely embraced in obedience to his Father’s will for our welfare, establishing his Kingdom for all times and forever. On his Cross, we are lifted up to the Father in love (cf. Jn 12:32). In his resurrection, we are lifted up from death to eternal life (cf. 1 Thes. 4:13-18). In his love, we have our most profound hope: of acceptance, forgiveness, of happiness and joy not only in the next life, but also in this.
In being loved today, we are called to love others today. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so ought you to love one another” (Jn 13:34) today. In loving others, especially the outcast and marginalized, we love Jesus today. “Whatsoever you do to one of these the least of my sisters and brothers, that you do to me” (Mt 25:40) today. In stopping, like the good Samaritan did, to care for the wounded man by the wayside, we bring the love of the Father to that person – or even to that downtrodden people beyond our shores (cf. Lk 25-37) today. In bringing love to the least of our brothers and sisters, excluding no one due to economic status, nationality, race, or creed, we act to realize the Kingdom of God today. This includes the poor person who knocks on our car window, or the impoverished victims of historical injustice in the Bangsamoro, or the peoples of Myanmar struggling for their human dignity and freedom against a bullying military wielding usurped State power to protect their private interests. We act in the hope of the Kingdom of Love that God himself hopes for us today. For in loving us to the end, God entrusts his hope for us all to us in love.
At the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said to his apostles, as today he says to us: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20). Having been entrusted with all power, Jesus empowers us to lead all to the Father’s Love, expressed in Himself and the Holy Spirit, ennobling us with the Hope he had in mind for us in creating and redeeming us. At the end of his earthly mission, Jesus entrusts his Kingdom of Love to us his stewards, commanding us to observe all he taught us, but assuring us he will be with us always till the end of time.
And so we receive the challenge we hear today in the parable of the tenants. Other tenants having failed, on this First Friday we are entrusted with his vineyard, his Kingdom of love. In Jesus we experience the totality of that love; in Jesus and the Father, we receive the hope of that love, that all of humanity be blessed with the fullness of life not only in the next life but also already in this. That love we are to nourish and make grow not only in ourselves, but in our families, in our communities, in our nations, in our global fraternity. But that is easier said than fulfilled. As in the parable, we can not only ignore that Love and its imperative to “Love one another…,” we can again put the Word of God’s love, the Father’s very own Son, to death. We can crucify and kill Love for money, for business, for sloth, for lust, for lies, for self-deception, for ambition, for hatred, for power. We can reject the cornerstone and murder the Son again in our lives. As the parable warns, often we do.
But what we reject the Lord knows how to preserve and recover, making it the cornerstone of his Church, the community of those who accept him and in his power follow him.
In the parable, those who murder the Son are asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answer: “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants.” In the Gospel, the master is more merciful to the tenants than they say they deserve. But he does entrust his Kingdom to others. What God hoped for them is given to others. What God hoped for them is now given to us.
Recalling on this First Friday in Lent the love of God for us, our consideration may be: how do we in our lives fulfill that hope in the people given to our care, like the discarded person we see by the wayside, like our brothers and sister struggling for deliverance from COVID19, like our brothers and sisters sacrificing their lives for freedom and human dignity in Myanmar? In this season of Lent, how are we doing…? How are we doing with the vineyard, the Kingdom of Love, entrusted to us by God?