Today is “Respect Life” Sunday. And, as you’ve noticed,
the readings are all about vineyards.
The Lord is the owner of the vineyard.
We’re the ones who are working. The Lord expects a good result.
All that is clear.
So what’s the crop that the Lord is looking for?
The first reading tells us: The Lord “looked for judgment,
but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry!”
Justice is the crop the vineyard is supposed to produce.
What is justice?
Working from what the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote,
Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us
that justice is defined as, “to each man his due.”
In the Bible, justice is a rich concept.
It’s not only about everyone getting a share;
it’s also about right relationship:
with God, with family, with the community.
And so, for example, a biblical idea of justice
doesn’t have a lot of room for being overly individualistic.
So that puts a biblical, a Christian, idea of justice
at odds with an American one,
because our society is certainly hyper-individualistic.
The great idol, the great false god,
before which our society bows down? “Choice.”
We love having things “our” way.
And when a lot of us – our neighbors, our coworkers, or we ourselves –
talk about marriage, and whether it should be redefined,
note what people tend to say:
“If that’s what someone wants to do, who am I to object?” Choice.
But the thing is, there is something higher –
and that something is called truth.
It’s a good thing that we have elections;
we settle our differences peacefully, and we allow all citizens a voice.
All that is very good, and it’s something our nation gave to the world.
But 51% of the vote doesn’t decide what’s true.
Ninety percent doesn’t; no, not even 100%!
Now that’s philosophy, and maybe that’s pretty dry.
Let’s put it in plain terms.
Three fellows are looking around the kitchen,
and they find a jar filled with liquid.
It’s not marked, they don’t know what it is.
It could be something good to drink; or it could be poison.
So they take a vote! “Good to drink” wins 2-1! Bottoms up!
You get the point: they can vote what they like,
but that won’t make poison good to drink.
So our challenge as Christians is that we have to say things like this.
And we know what people say in return:
OK, you don’t have to drink it – there we are, back to “choice” again.
But tell me: can any of us really say
that if we were with people drinking poison,
we’d be content with not having to drink it ourselves?
We could see all that evil happening around us, and be OK with that?
That’s not justice. That’s bloodshed.
This is the bankruptcy of the way people justify legal abortion.
The obvious reason to oppose abortion
is to protect the life of the unborn child.
But there is another very powerful reason
that we don’t talk enough about:
and that is concern for the true well-being
of the mother, the father, and all of us.
The Harry Potter series gives a powerful image of what I mean.
In those stories, whenever someone commits murder,
it fractures the soul; and as the saga unfolds,
everyone who cooperates with the villain, it’s clear,
are becoming wrecked people.
It is not justice to say, “you made your choice, it’s not my problem.”
God’s response is love.
This is where the Gospel stuns us.
We see evil, and either we are filled with rage;
or we respond with hands thrown up in despair;
or we turn away, so we don’t have to see it.
We see people who do evil, and we punish them,
and maybe we forget about them.
This is not God’s justice.
God responds with love. A tidal wave—a tsunami—of love.
This is so baffling to us, we often simply don’t believe it.
If you look at the stories many people give
about having been involved in abortion,
they say: they can’t believe God will forgive them.
Of all the lies the enemy uses to mislead us, that one is the worst.
And it’s not just about one particular sin.
There are lots of people who wonder, can God forgive me? Will he?
That’s why God went to the Cross.
So we would always know there is absolutely nothing
God won’t do to save us.
Let me return to this mindset of our time,
that says, it’s your choice, it’s not my problem.
That same reasoning slides over into so many other areas:
now it’s doctors helping people commit suicide;
after that, legalizing the doctor doing the killing.
And it’s the same reason some people want to legalize drugs:
who cares if someone wants to do that to themselves.
And it’s why so much of our society
is growing indifferent to indecency and pornography.
That indifference shows up toward people who are poor and in trouble.
Especially if they are far away;
or if their trouble is in any way of their own making.
Look at our prison system.
We’re really good at punishing people for crimes.
And I am not saying they shouldn’t be punished.
But how many of us want even to think about what goes on
behind those prison bars? What is done to prisoners?
What they do to each other?
We know what happens. Does anyone do anything?
When’s the last time any politician stood up and said,
I’m going to work hard to make sure that prisons are humane?
They would if enough people brought it up.
Instead, they all compete to show how tough they are.
No human being deserves to be thrown away.
Not a baby, not the handicapped, not the poor, not foreigners,
no, not even those who commit the worst crimes.
When Pope Saint John Paul began teaching against the death penalty,
after I read what he wrote, I changed my position to be against the death penalty.
And my reason is this: I do not want to be part of a society
that kills people. Not if we don’t have to – which is what he said.
If we can punish people without death, that’s what we must do.
Even if we don’t listen to him out of concern for the convicted criminal,
we listen out of concern for our own souls. For the soul of our society.
This is what justice is: not only concern for my own needs,
but for yours.
And always a recognition that we’re all in this together.