05 October 2014

Will you stand on the Cornerstone come what may?

27th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Here's a warning no servant of God ever wants to hear: “. . .the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” What's worse than living your life as an heir to eternal life only to discover that—in the end—you've been disinherited? When Jesus finishes telling the priests and elders the parable of the murderous tenants, he quotes Ps 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” By rejecting Christ as the cornerstone of their relationship with God, the leaders of God's people reject their inheritance. Their reaction to this prophetic statement? They ain't happy. However, they are more afraid than unhappy—afraid of Jesus' popularity, so they postpone arresting him. They're not worried about losing their eternal inheritance. They're worried about losing their power and prestige among the people. When we think about the arduous demands of faithfully following Christ, do we think first of our eternal inheritance, or do we first consider how following him might look to family, friends, or neighbors? Do we reject the cornerstone of our faith in favor of not being noticed, in favor of never being challenged or excluded from polite company?  
Rejecting God in favor of wealth, power, and fame is not new to the 21st century. The parable of the tenants retells the history of the Jewish people's stormy relationship with God. We know the story all too well. It tells just like the history of the Church's relationship with God: lots of disobedience and great moments of heroic virtue. What the parable doesn't include is an explanation for our repeated failures. We can hear greed in the tenants' justification for killing the owner's son. But greed never poisons alone. We can hear a little wrath in the tenants' desire to wound their employer. Some pride and class envy. Why do the priests and elders reject Christ? Why do we so consistently reject making Christ the cornerstone of our lives. Making Christ the cornerstone of our everyday lives means risking one of our most valuable treasures: being a respected player in whatever social game that defines us. Family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, fellow parishioners. If I make Christ my cornerstone, will I have to buck popular political trends, go against the prevailing attitudes of my peers, and risk losing real prestige for nothing more than a promise of future glory?
Social psychologists will tell you that there is almost nothing more difficult for an individual to do than go against the crowd. The psychology of the herd is infectious; it takes the single soul into a massed spirit where deliberation and freedom are strangled for the sake of frenzy. But few of us will ever be caught up in that sort of mob. The mobs we belong to are much more subtle and more dangerous: the workplace, the family reunion, movie night with friends, faculty meetings, events where those whose opinions of us we honor gather to socialize and strengthen the bonds of the group. When the opportunity arises, do we choose Christ as our cornerstone; or do we choose our standing in the group? When family, friends, co-workers express their support for the culture of death, do you stand on Christ; or do you back down to save face? When your peers start advocate undermining marriage and the family; or expressing racist opinions; or defaming the Church, do you stand on Christ, or back down? If Christ is to be your cornerstone, then everything you are must find its integrity and strength in Christ, regardless of the consequences. As baptized prophets of the Church, you are sent out to live the truth of the gospel. Even if and especially when it means your prestige must take a beating. When the time comes, will you “remember the marvelous works of the Lord,” most especially the marvelous work of your salvation achieved on the altar of the Cross?  
If contemplating your willingness to remain faithful to Christ and his Church is making you nervous, listen again to Paul: “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.” The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus if we make known to him – in prayer with thanksgiving – all that we need. If you need strength to stand firmly on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. If you need patience to stand diligently on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. If you need wisdom to stand knowledgeably on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. Nothing you need to stand upon the cornerstone of Christ will be denied you if you seek it out and simply ask for it with thanksgiving. Any anxiety you may be feeling b/c of who you are in Christ is the product of the Enemy coaxing you toward silence, toward defensiveness and silence. The peace that God gives us surpasses all understanding, all anxiety, all hesitancy and guile. When we speak up to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is not our tongues that speak but his. Not our words but his. Not our time and energy spent but his. As his faithful servants, we serve his mission and ministry by continuing to speak his Word of mercy to anyone who will listen.
Paul not only tells us how to pray for what we need to stand on the cornerstone of Christ, he also tells us how to go about training our hearts and minds for the holy work that the Lord has given us to complete. He writes, “. . .whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, pure, lovely, gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Just as we work to discipline our bodily appetites against temptation, avoiding those occasions where we might be tempted to put the things of this world before God, so too can we work to discipline our hearts and minds against the invasive ideas and passions – falsity, dishonor, injustice, impurity, ugliness, crudity, mediocrity, and scorn. Look at the tenants who murder the vineyard owner's son. They think about murder and talk about murder before actually committing murder. They fail to resist greed and anger, and they feed one another's passions until the deed is done. They would, according to the priests and elders, suffer “wretched deaths” for their failure to discipline themselves. When we make a stand on the cornerstone of Christ and lay claim to our inheritance as the Father's sons and daughters, our words and deeds must bring honor, dignity, and praise to His name.

The builders God raised up rejected Christ as their cornerstone, and Christ says to them, “. . .the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” We stand with Christ in his Church to proclaim the Good News of salvation. Whether this stand is popular or not; prestigious or not; profitable or not. If we would be the people who produce the good fruit of His kingdom, the people to inherit the Kingdom of heaven on our last day, then we must stand with Christ as he died for us.
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