Last Sunday after Mass someone said to me, “Father, it’s too bad we had to have the Diocesan Appeal. I missed your homily, because I could not make any sense out of that parable about the vineyard and the wicked tenants.”
Perhaps some people are saying to themselves right now, “The parable about the wedding guests makes no sense to me, either. But what are the chances that this joker will be able to explain it?”
Before we get to these parables, I have a couple questions for you.
What year is it?
Why? Why the 2,011th year? The 2,011th year since…what?
We reckon time according to Christ. And by ‘we,’ I mean everybody, Christian and non-Christian alike. Some people have other reckonings. For instance, today is the 9th of Tishrei in the year 5772, in the Jewish calendar. And this is the year 1432 of the Hijira of Mohammed. But if you want to make a doctor’s appointment, you had better schedule it for 2011.
This past week a controversy erupted between the British Broadcasting Company and the Osservatore Romano newspaper.
Apparently, the BBC religion-news office issued guidelines to the effect that the abbreviations “B.C.” and “A.D.” should no longer be used when referring to historical dates, because these abbreviations could offend non-Christians.
Now, anyone who has spent any time thinking about this sees immediately how empty and lame a gesture this would be. Even if you call the year 2011 CE instead of 2011 AD, the potential offensiveness remains. The problem—if there is one—does not lie in the abbreviation. The problem lies in the number. It’s a CHRISTIAN NUMBER.
The Osservatore Romano responded to the BBC directive by making a different point. Western history rests on the traditional calendar. The life of Christ marked a turning point in the history of the Western world. We can trace back all the advances of our civilization to the development of a Christian society.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I agree with this. After all, the Osservatore Romano is the official Vatican newspaper. But I don’t think this argument reaches the heart of the matter.
The parables we heard last Sunday and will hear this Sunday: they take us to the heart of what year it is.
Last Sunday’s parable concerned a vineyard owner looking to take his profits. This Sunday’s concerns a king giving a wedding banquet for his son. The two stories seem altogether different, but, beneath the surface, common ideas emerge.
In the ancient near East, the wedding banquet of a prince would have been more a political occasion than a romantic one. The king would expect his prominent subjects to come to the banquet as an act of homage to him. Not coming would demonstrate rebellion.
Both parables, therefore, concern rebellion. And they both involve a father and a son.
Everything belongs to the Father. The Son will inherit. And the Son is one of us, among us; we are invited to His wedding.
When the eternal Son of God came to us 2,011 years ago, we did not greet Him with love. The world had grown old and tired. The Creator seemed a long way away. Truth had been obscured by generation after generation of confusion and lies. Apathy filled the hearts of men—or worse, malice. The world had spoiled like a jug of old milk.
The Son came, and we did not give Him His due. We rebelled. We rejected God and killed Him.
But: that was not the end. That was the turning point. A new beginning came. God so loved the world that He sent His Son not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved.
We deserved wrath and condemnation, but the hand of justice fell on Christ instead of us. On the cross, the history of unredeemed man ended. Then Christ rose from the dead, and the Age of Grace began.
During the B.C. years, we were bound to obey the law of justice, but we failed. Now in the A.D., the justice of Christ makes us just. During the B.C. years, we longed for God, but we could not see Him. Now in the A.D., Christ shows us the Father.
The parables condemn the religious pretensions of the ancient Jewish leaders. The children of the New Covenant have no such delusions of being blue-bloods in the divine kingdom. We do not hesitate to admit that we got picked up from the highways and byways, from the hedgerows and the waysides. When it comes to the grace of God, we are not Old Money; we are nouveau riche.
For 2,011 years now, and counting, this New Covenant of gracious mercy has bound God and man together in love. 2,011 years ago, the turning point came. Now the Years of our Lord move toward the final rejuvenation of all things. The A.D. years lie open to eternity. We pray our way through them with faith, hope, and love.