Homily, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
What does it mean to be a rebel?
I was passing by a bus top the other day, and there was a fairly large group of people waiting for the bus, and every one of them was tethered to their phones. Maybe they were reading scripture. But whatever they were doing, it looked like they were in a trance. The devices are fine, obviously, it’s just that we are being bombarded minute by minute by messages from our culture that may not be consistent with the Christian way of life. Is it possible that that has a negative effect on our behaviour? Possibly. I wonder if this culture of distraction is somehow connected to our culture of consumerism, where we buy without thinking, where we waste without thinking, and where we indulge without thinking. I believe that when this happens, our gifts are suppressed, Christianity is suppressed, and so are goodness and generosity.
Here is a great example. One of my favourite superhero movies is Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel starts out as a pretty ordinary girl, but then has an accident and is exposed to an alien material that gives her superpowers. But she also has amnesia, so she forgets who she is and where she comes from, and, how she got her power. So she is taken captive by another alien race and is taken to another planet. But she is held in such a way that she's not allowed to let her superpowers develop on her own. She thinks she’s free. But she just doesn’t know any better. Any time she expresses these powers, she is told to hold them in. "What has been given can be taken away.” As it turns out, she is being controlled and manipulated so she can be used as a weapon by people who have no respect for her as a person but only want to use her for her power, for her individuality. It is only later in the movie that she realizes her true power, and that she has been invalidated.
This is the problem of our consumer culture today. Our consumer culture wants to use you for its own consumption. It doesn't want you to become who you are, or it just doesn't care as long are you are feeding the machine of consumption. That's what we must rebel against. Because God, on the other hand, has given you tremendous gifts that are capable of making you truly happy, not because of anyone else, but because of who you are.
Consider this from the perspective of the parable of the tenants in today’s Gospel:
The Vineyard is the people of God.
The tenants are the scribes and the Pharisees of ancient Israel - a symbol of oppression.
The slaves in the story are the prophets - and the corruption at hand is given plenty of opportunity to reform.
Jesus is the son in the story, who is put to death by the scribes and the Pharisees.
The new tenants are us, the new disciples of Jesus Christ.
As new tenants, our role is to care for this vineyard which is not only the church but the world. But here's the thing: The scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus is talking about are still here. They are a huge force that would stop us from our role as disciples.
Matthew Kelly has a wonderful description of this in his video series for confirmation. He calls it often “becoming the best version of yourself.
“Today’s culture doesn't want you to become the best version of yourself. Today’s culture doesn't want you to think too much about life. Today’s culture doesn't want you to become hungry for the truth. Today’s culture doesn't want you to develop your spiritual self. Today’s culture doesn't want you to have a great relationship with God. The modern world just wants you to go along, to be a good little obedient consumer, and not ask too many questions about where the whole experiment of modern culture is leading.”
That's what we should rebel against. The modern culture doesn’t care about you and usually leads you to a second-rate version of yourself. What drives God, on the other hand? Love. What drives the culture? Consumption. “Almost everything in our culture is aimed at getting you to buy something or making you feel inadequate or both.” Everything today, for example, has a brand on it. What were brands first used for? Cattle. What were they next used for? Slaves.” And what do brands signify? Ownership. Do we own the brands? or do the brands own us? Are we still the consumers? Or are we being consumed?”
So here’s the question: Are we cattle and slaves? Or are we free? God created us as his children, and as his children, he created us to be free. The problem is, that most of us spend a lot more time listening to the culture than listening to God. The problem is that the vision of the culture leads to emptiness and pain. God is asking us to reject our culture's vision of what happiness is.
I think Jesus wants us to rebel against this culture, by finding our power inside us, not the power of self, but the power of love. Just like Captain Marvel, as she began to realize her power she was able to defeat her enemies. And the path to waking up is found in God’s message to us in revelation. I conclude with Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.