The mothers of four priests were sipping tea in the church hall, talking about their sons. "My son is a monsignor," the first mother said proudly. "When he enters the room, people say, "Good morning, monsignor." The second mother sat up very straight and announced: "My son is a bishop, and when he enters the room, people say, "Hello, your Excellency." "Well," sniffed the third somewhat arrogantly, "My son is a prince of the church, a cardinal; when he enters the room, everyone says, "Hello, your Eminence." The fourth mother was quiet for a moment, but then responded: "Well, my son is a simple parish priest, but he's six-foot-eight and weighs 320 pounds. When he enters the room, people cry out, "O my God!"
We do try to impress each other with titles and positions, don't we! In today's Gospel, Jesus continues confronting the high priests and religious leaders in the Temple. These entitled priests and highly positioned religious leaders take great pride in their "credentials," their many years of serious study, their knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. If you recall, in last Sunday's Gospel, they question Jesus' credentials as a teacher. Jesus responds that the only "credentials" that really matter are how well people live their lives.
Apparently, these religious leaders still didn't get it : now that's a familiar phrase, today, isn't it? : so in today's Gospel, Jesus tells them another story: the one you just heard, about the farmhands working in the wealthy farmer's vineyard who get greedy and want all the profits for themselves. They resort to violence and murder, even to the point of killing the owner's son to get what they want. When the priests and leaders hear this story, they realize it is aimed at themselves, and they become even more hostile towards Jesus. Truth-tellers like Jesus have many enemies because truth-tellers upset the status quo. The people who are most upset are those who hold the highest positions in the status quo! Experience confirms that change seldom if ever comes from people already entrenched in power and authority : people like monsignors, bishops and cardinals of the church, or for that matter, CEOs of huge corporations. These people hold on tightly to the power and authority they already have, and then want even more! Change comes only when we turn our hearts to Jesus and his topsy-turvy Gospel message : the message that contradicts the way we ordinarily see things, the message that states unequivocally that what really matters is not our title or position in life, the message that requires us to speak truth to the power brokers. What really matters is that we become what Jesus calls us to be: peacemakers, justice-seekers, women and men of compassion and thankfulness.
That's the kind of world Jesus envisions for us, the kind of world that Jesus wants us to hand over to Sawyer Allen Peterson, to Liliana Michelle Olson, to Khyana Nimara Jimmerson, to Evelyn Joyce Kujawski, to all infants baptized here at Jesus Our Shepherd and elsewhere. Now the question becomes: Are we up to this task?