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Sunday 4 October 2020

Use it or lose it!

Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46 


By Joseph Estorninho

A Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Westminster and Head of Music in a preparatory school

Context: Mass at which parishioners are joined by children preparing for First Holy Communion and their parents

Aim: to speak directly to 7-8-year-old children, inviting them to keep the gospel alive by living gospel values

Have you seen the movie Toy Story 2? The opening goes something like this: As Andy prepares to go to cowboy camp he is playing with his favourite toy, Woody, and accidentally tears Woody’s arm. His mother puts Woody on the top shelf and promises to mend him while Andy is away. She has already decided to have a clear-out, a spring-clean and collects all the toys that she thinks Andy doesn’t play with anymore. Among those toys is a penguin that Andy hasn’t played with for ages; Woody tries to save him from the sale but finds himself in the box for garage sale. That’s when the adventure begins.

Perhaps this has happened in your house. Maybe your mother has had a spring-clean. You know what’s coming, don’t you! There will be toys and games of which you say you are very fond. You have great memories of playing with them, but it’s been ages, perhaps years, since you even looked at them. What about all those DVDs in the cupboard that you once watched everyday but are now forgotten? Are these all going to be victims of the dreaded spring-clean?

We all like to keep things for ourselves. But there are many people, children and adults, who have very little or nothing and we have so much! Of all the stuff we have we only use a tiny portion of it. Most of it just gathers dust.

In ancient Israel, wine was a symbol of the divine life, so when Isaiah says the vineyard (where grapes grow to make wine) only produced sour grapes, he is saying that because the people didn’t behave as God wanted them to behave, they became sour (like the grapes), which is no good for making wine. Isaiah tells them that God will tear down his vineyard and that he is going to take away the gift he gave them.

They had been given a great gift but they weren’t using it properly or at all. Sure! On the outside it looked as though they did all the right things: they went to the temple or synagogues; they said all their prayers; they followed the law. So, what was it that God wanted of them? It seemed like they were being good people. God wanted them to live their lives with love and not just by the rules.

God is love; that’s all he does! He loves without end. We can talk about love but that isn’t loving. We can’t put love in a glass case and look at it like something in a museum. It has to be lived. It must never become like old toys and DVDs that are stored away and remembered fondly but never used.

The good news is that Jesus came to tell us that the whole world is included in God’s love and that means that we have to love in return. The more we love, the more love God gives us. Love has to be given away to grow. There is no such thing as love that is kept to yourself. Think of the love your parents have for you. They love you, not because of what you can do for them; not because you are always well behaved and never cause them headaches. Perhaps you are like that – I wasn’t!

We are all the children of God. Think about what that means for a moment. Do you remember a moment ago I told you God is Love? If we are children of God, we are children of Love and that means we belong to a family of Love. In our second reading St Pauls tells us that if we love, the peace of God will be with us.

We can go through our entire lives never breaking any of the rules, but does that make us Christians the way God wants us to be? Anyone can do that! You don’t have to be Christian or have any religion at all to be a good person.

We can go to Mass every Sunday and we can say our prayers; but if we don’t live our lives in the love of Jesus we will be just keeping our great gifts unused as though they were on the top shelf gathering dust.

How can we live a life in love? We can do as Jesus asked us, for instance, we can visit the sick and give to the poor – give them food and clothing and, yes, even our toys and games! Of course, we should go to church every Sunday and we should pray - these activities are important in our lives but they will mean very little if the rest of our lives don’t match up.

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