October 8th Sunday Readings.
When I was 23 years old I was hired to lead a group of adults in doing youth ministry with and for high school teenagers. Every adult was older than me and had more experience in parish life and youth ministry, but I was in charge.
Having taken over this ministry, one of the first things I had to do was take teens to a conference out of state. The permission forms needed to be reworked and I was asked to add information about dress code and behavior. Being the early 2000s the dress code clause needed to be specific and I made it so (think Brittany and N’sync).
The conference came around and most of the group, teens and adults, had gathered in our parish’s gathering space waiting to depart for the conference. The group suddenly became quiet as the doors opened and one of my key volunteers walked in. Art was in his early 60s, 6’ 2” and 300+ lbs. He was wearing a white shirt that he had cut the bottom 10 inches off of, exposing the bottom half of his ample belly. A clear and certain violation of my newly minted “No Midriffs” dress code.
The group didn’t know whether to laugh or wince, and they looked to me to do something. Before I could, Art bellowed, “Oh, is that what you meant by no midriffs? Sorry, I’ll go change.” And we all had a good laugh together.
I’m not sure if Art was just trying to be funny, but what happened was that he cemented my authority in the minds of those present. It was as if he had said, “I’m going to follow Chris, even if I don’t like or understand because I trust he is going to lead us well.” In 11 years of youth ministry, I never had a single significant behavior problem.
In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who has a very different experience with his tenants. The landowner invests significantly in a vineyard, wine press, tower, and wall. He leases the vineyard to tenants and when he goes to collect his rightful portion of the harvest, they rebel, refuse, and rebuke every attempt collect. The landowner finally sends his own son and the tenants kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.
The question for me in the parable is this – Who is the boss? Who is in charge? The tenants don’t want to be beholden to anyone but themselves. They are willing to murder to protect their independence and personal authority. Unfortunately for them, this attitude results in their destruction and the vineyard being given to someone else.
The question for us is this – Who is our boss? Who do we answer to? I think it is important for us to consider carefully who has given us our “vineyard.” We must reflect on who has give us a life and breath and all that we have. We may be tempted to say that we worked for it; we earned and deserve it. But so did the wicked tenants. No, everything we have has ultimately been made by God and is a gift. In fact, the work to receive these things was a gift from God, as was the ability to work. All is gift.
Who is your boss? Who is your ultimate authority? Who do you give authority to day in and day out? Who sets your schedule, tells you how to spend your money, and how to treat others?
If it is anyone other than God, consider how to take a step toward returning to God what was always his to begin with.
Live It: This Sunday when you go to Mass, at the time of the consecration and reception of the Eucharist, pray simply for the grace to make God the boss, to give God authority over your life, and ask for the grace to change.