August 26 (O.S., August 13), 2018: Afterfeast of the Transfiguration; Martyrs Anicetus and Photius (Photinus) of Nicomedia (305); Hieromartyr Alexander, bishop of Comana (3rd c.); Martyrs Pamphilus and Capito.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 16:13–24
Gospel: Matthew 21: 33–42
Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukranian Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI
Notice in the parable that Jesus doesn’t accuse the tenants of being unfruitful. These are not individuals who neglect the work they’ve been given to do. The conflict arises precisely because they are productive workers who anticipate a bountiful harvest.
Surrounded by beauty and wealth, the tenants became envious. They didn’t forget they were tenants. Rather, their unhappiness with their status cause them but envied the owner.
Or rather, their envy causes them to feel unsatisfied with the work they’ve done.
Whenever in the Gospels we hear about a rich harvest, we are meant to think about the evangelical mission of the Church. And this is what the parable is about.
On one level, Jesus is inditing the Jewish authorities not only of His time but all those in Israel who persecuted the prophets. As the heirs of those who for generation after generation rejected those God set over them, it isn’t a surprise that the authorities of His time will reject Jesus and turn Him over to the Romans for execution.
On another level though, the parable is directed to the Church; to us.
There is an unfortunate tendency for Christians to forget that we aren’t the owners of divine grace. Much less are we the source of the divine life that God pours out on His people by the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments.
No, we are stewards of grace.
It is our task, our calling, and great honor, to discern the presence and the shape of that grace in our own lives and the lives of those we meet.
Again, we are the stewards of grace.
Sometimes though I am tempted to forget this. When I do, there is a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) shift in my attitude.
I allow envy to take hold of my heart. As it does, my relationship to the things of God and to the People of God becomes corrupt. Over time, envy gives way to a proprietary attitude. Like the tenants in the parable, I come to think I own the Church.
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis points out that one of the devil’s tricks is to get us to ignore the vast difference between “my boots” and “my God.” Many of us forget, for example, that “my parish” is more like “my God” than “my boots.”
This temptation is all the stronger when, as the parable highlights, the evangelical mission of the Church is bearing fruit. How easy it is for the priest or the lay evangelist to confuse his efforts with the grace of God. It is this that Jesus condemns in the Gospel.
And He condemns not only the attitude but those who hold to it. We must not, our Lord tells us today, allow a proprietary attitude to take hold in our hearts. To guard against this I need to foster a sense of detachment.
Detachment doesn’t mean indifference but an awareness that everything and everyone in my life comes to me as God’s gift to me for His glory, my salvation and the salvation of the world.
Detachment means always struggling against the temptation to confuse “my God,” “my spouse,” “my child,” “my vocation,” and yes, “my church,” with “my boots.”
Detachment, in the final analysis, means remembering that I am not the owner or source of grace but its steward.
Important here, as well, is that I remember that I am only one steward of grace among many. Detachment means that I am aware that God has entrusted me with only one part of His Kingdom.
Whether large or small, great or humble, our responsibilities are limited.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! We are all of us always tempted to envy in the spiritual life. We are all of us always tempted to think that we own the things of God.
We need to be on guard against this attitude, we need to remain detached. To accomplish this we must, as St Paul tells the Corinthians, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”
Originally published at Palamas Institute.