“Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Mt 21:43).
With these words, Jesus is speaking to the leadership of Israel, those entrusted to shepherd God’s chosen. Jesus is not, as some have suggested, advocating supersessionism: the claim that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. The Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church and Non-Christian Religions, states clearly: “It is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture” (741). There is clear evidence that there have been anti-semitic movements and supersessionist views in the Church and it has created division instead of interfaith communion, and there are traces that still support a view contrary to Nostra Aetate, and there is still much to do to heal and promote better mutual understanding. We must remember that Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Apostles were Jewish, not Christians. Pope Paul VI stated that spiritually we are all Semites.
What we need to glean from Jesus’ words is that we who say we believe in God are given a sacred trust and duty to care for one another and all of creation. We cannot go through each day with blinders on to the needs of those around us. Though we cannot meet all the needs everywhere and for everyone, we can begin to approach each day with an intent of being good stewards to those we engage with.
We can begin by looking at our own home. First, on the material level, do we have more than we need? Are there material goods that could be used better elsewhere rather than just taking up space? Then, going forward, we can purchase what we need and resist what we think we want. I know I need to apply this to books as well! “Wealth, explains Saint Basil, is like water that issues forth from the fountain: the greater the frequency with which it is drawn, the purer it is, while it becomes foul if the fountain remains unused” (Compendium, 329). We need to seek God’s discernment so to bettwe be able to manage the gifts and resources that God has entrusted. Being free of attachment to our material goods, we may be people of generosity giving freely with joy, not choking on our own stagnation of excessive acquisitions.
We also need to assess how we treat one another. A good practice here is to follow St. Mother Teresa’s five finger Gospel: “You did it to me.” This was an embodiment of Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus emphasized what you do to the least, you did it to me. If we can approach each person we meet, in person and now online, not as if they were like Jesus, but in fact Jesus, we might treat others with more dignity or respect. The act of respecting the dignity of one person makes a big difference, certainly to that person, as well as rippling out to counter the negativity that permeates our culture of growing cynicism and polarization. A waterfall begins with one drop. Helping people to feel they matter, that they have worth and dignity begins with one smile or a listening ear.
Moving out to issues beyond our immediate reach, we can seek to write our congressional representatives asking them that they choose as their starting point the dignity of the person instead of corporate or special lobby interests when they are considering shaping policies regarding the unborn, indigenous people’s rights, civil rights, guns, immigration reform, access to health care, war, capital punishment, and human trafficking. Then there might be more of a chance that those without a voice, those on the peripheries may not then be considered as other or just a drain on the system.
We need to appeal to their conscience so they can come to see that people without lobby access, without a voice, those who are vulnerable, do matter. We are called to work toward the common good of all, within our country and throughout the world. “Collaboration in development of the whole person and of every human being is in fact a duty of all towards all, and must be shared by the four parts of the world, East and West, North and South” (Compendium, John Paul II, 446).
We are not the owners of the vineyard, we are the tenants placed in charge by God to be good stewards. How we use our time, talent, and treasure matter. This is a good point of daily meditation and focus when examining our conscience each evening before we retire to the land of dreams. How have we done in the matter of caring for one another and our environment? For those places we have fallen short, may we seek God’s forgiveness, and vow to begin anew. Where we have done well, may we ask for God’s guidance to continue to strive to reach out even more, such that the water of generosity we draw continues to be pure so we may bear good fruit.
Flannery, Austin. Vatican Council II. Fifth ed. Vol. 1. 2 vols. New York: Costello, 1998.
Compendium of the social doctrine of the church. Cittá del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005.