Fraternity with Francis
Gospel Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the Spring of 2009, I jumped on a train from Rome to Assisi for a weekend getaway by myself. I was studying in Rome for the semester and could not believe I was about to walk in the footsteps of my patron Saint around his beloved hometown. Choosing a male Saint at Confirmation definitely brought on some teasing from peers since I am female. There was something about Francis though that captivated me as he seemed like a companion along my life journey. We just seemed to get one another. Never did I dream that I would actually get to venture to the small village on a hill he called home.
Ever since that unforgettable weekend in Assisi, I will celebrate this feast day with vibrant memories. The zeal of Francis is palpable in the streets. I could feel his "pax et bonum" (translated: peace and goodness) in the air.
This weekend, Pope Francis traveled to Assisi to sign a new encyclical at the tomb of St. Francis. The encyclical, called "Fratelli tutti" (translated: all of my brothers), discusses the importance of fraternity and social friendship. As I began to read through the encyclical, I made connections to the Gospel today about the vineyard that we all share.
Jesus has been sharing a number of different parables that take place in a vineyard so there is a clear emphasis on the setting. When I think of a vineyard, I can easily imagine the hilly Italian countryside surrounding Assisi. As I looked out from the Basilica of San Francisco, I was astonished by the view. The luscious land appeared to be taken care of by its inhabitants.
“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
― Saint Francis of Assisi
In the Gospel today, Jesus says:
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
This landowner put hard work into his vineyard. He provided everything that was needed for the land to bear fruit. He entrusted the land to tenants and went on a journey. According to the dictionary, the definition of journey has transformed over the years from describing a day-long trip to traveling for an unknown amount of time.
When I read this, I wondered about the landowner. Why is he leaving the vineyard he worked so hard to cultivate? Where is he going? When is he coming back? In my inquiry, I recalled how Jesus often went away by himself to pray for undisclosed amounts of time. Even in the midst of large crowds with pressing needs, He was able to find peace and lean on His Father's will. He went on a journey not to abandon but to enrich.
From the beginning, God gifted Adam with responsibility as he was invited to participate in creation.
The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him. So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man. So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken. Genesis 2:18-23
God made each of us in His image. Just like a loving father loves to spend time with his children, God the Father wants to spend time with us. He wants to experience the world through our eyes. No different than any father, God prefers gratitude over complaining and peace over conflict.
Listening to a talk by Kimberly Hahn, I was inspired by the reminder that Adam and Eve did not hunt or grasp at one another. They were given to one another at the proper time as they recognized that they were of the same bone and the same flesh. They were blessed to call the Garden of Eden home. God knew everything that they needed and steered them away from the tree that would become their downfall.
This downfall consisted in leading one another into sin, rather than filtering the lies with the Truth. Pope Francis writes about the responsibility St. Francis felt for his neighbor in "Fratelli tutti":
"Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters."
What seeds do we sow? What brothers and sisters need our attention?
As we continue the parable of the vineyard, we read that, "when vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce." Since not many people live on vineyards today, vintage is commonly used to describe something of high quality from the past (especially from the best period of someone's life). The landowner did not come on just any day; he had a purpose for his coming. He came on the best day known to produce the best grapes for choice wines.
Despite being given everything they needed to be productive and rich, the tenants were taking the life of anyone reminding them of the work that needed to be done. Adam and Eve reacted similarly in the garden when God was looking for them:
When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat? Genesis 3:8-11
How often do we get caught up in how we interpret success rather than how God views success? How often do we run from God and from others out of shame and inadequacy?
God asks Adam, "who told you that you were naked?" I can only imagine what the tenants were feeling when the servants returned to check on their progress. They didn't truly listen and learn how to be "naked" in the garden. When they didn't like what they saw inside themselves, they were afraid and experienced the fight-or-flight response. The tenants fought and took down everyone else in their sight. Adam and Eve ran away from the God who wanted to walk with them.
“No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm.
You have no enemy except yourselves.”
― St. Francis Of Assisi
The landowner didn't give up on the tenants. On the second day, he sent even more servants thinking that the tenants may just be having a bad day. On the third day, he thought they needed to feel more connected to the landowner himself. So, he sent his own son to help them progress in the vineyard. The ashamed tenants killed the son in the same way they killed everyone else.
“What we are looking for is what is looking.”
― St. Francis of Assisi
God is the landowner in our lives. He is merciful and understanding. He is generous and gifts us with an abundant life in a beautiful world. He created everything for us and all he asks us to do is to take care of it and take care of one another.
In "Fratelli tutti", Pope Francis stated that St. Francis "calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother 'as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.'"
Whether God feels near or far ("on a journey"), we are called to be faithful. Whether a person lives in our home or across the world, we are called to be considerate. Whether a neighbor has our skin color or beliefs or looks or believes differently, we are called to to be loving.
“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
― St. Francis of Assisi
We are all in the vineyard together and God sent His only Son to help us live a fruitful life with a produce that lasts for eternity. We need to do our job. We need to put in the work. We don't need to grasp for inheritance. He wants us to receive everything He offers with open hands.
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that have received--only what you have given.”
― Francis of Assisi
What are YOU called to do this week to produce fruit in the vineyard?
Where in your life are YOU running from the God (the landowner) this week?
How are YOU being called to love your neighbor without borders this week?