Summary: Father Dave’s Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46 & the East Timorese Martyrs. The nature of God, the price he’s willing to pay for His ’Vineyard’ and the wait for the justice that will eventually take place.
Wednesday is the feast of ’the Saints and Martyrs of Asia’. It is a tragic irony that on the very day it is celebrated, more East Timorese martyrs will probably be added to their number!
A Protestant Christian leader has been killed. The Communion of Churches in Indonesia has confirmed that the Rev Francisco de Vasconcelos, General Secretary of the Christian Church of East Timor was shot after his vehicle was stopped on the road between Dili and Baucau.
Sister Elizabeth Landon was until recently there as a Dominican nun with Caritas. "For five days we had had nothing but continual gun firing and burning of houses," she said of the situation just prior to her departure. "The people outside the diocesan centre had threatened to burn anywhere that had refugees. I was staying with some of the sisters who had over 500 refugees."
"Today I heard that six sisters with whom one of our other Caritas members was living have been killed. Father Barreto, the priest in charge of Caritas in Dili was also killed. A more gentle compassionate man you couldn’t find. .... I was in Bougainville at the time of some of the trouble, but it was nothing compared to this. This is just straight out slaughter. It really is. It is just terrorising and killing people. We just have to ask God now to work some kind of a miracle whereby no more people are slaughtered."
What could these senseless deaths possibly achieve? Why doesn’t God stop these things?
Hans Roland wrote about his growing up in Nazi Germany, and being drafted at age 12 into Hitler’s youth army, where he was posted to the Russian front! He also tells about an earlier experience at age 9, when he was staying on a farm as part of his Hitler Youth training.
He tells of a teenage boy from the neighboring farm - Herr Bach - who had been drafted into the army as a teenager, and who returned briefly to his parents. After a few days the boy disappeared, shortly after which military police arrived, looking for him. He was a deserter. They found him a few days later, having hanged himself from a tree in the forest.
The young Hans Roland was the first to find him and read his farewell note. In it the young Herr Bach explained that he had been posted to work in Auschwitz, and that, as a Christian, he could no longer carry out the orders he was given. He went to his local priest and asked for advice, but was told not to fantasize. He couldn’t see any other way out.
A martyr of sorts? What could his suicide possibly achieve? Why does God allow it?
One of our girls got pregnant, and was initially planning on keeping the child. But her mother told her she would throw her out of the house unless she either married the father or had an abortion! Knowing the father, this was not much of a choice.
The girl came to speak to us at Trinitys before going for the abortion. Dan didn’t know exactly what to say. I arrived straight from a funeral. A black car pulled up outside Trinitys. I got out still dressed in my cassock and descended upon her. I might as well have been lowered on a rope straight from heaven. I told her that the choice her mother was giving her was not fair, that we would provide accommodation for her if necessary, and that if she had any doubt about what to do, she should at least delay the scheduled abortion.
The result - she had the abortion that day anyway. Why did God bother to set this up for us?
And Jesus tells a story about a vineyard:
"There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him."
What do these stories have in common? They are all stories of violence. Indeed, if we understand the story of the vineyard as a sort of allegory concerning the whole of the history of God’s dealing with his people, then the story of the vineyard is suggesting that the whole history of God’s dealing with his people has been marked by violence!