St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Septuagesima, 2014

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 “ Jesus, The Mission and Grace.. .”

I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

I have had the privilege of watching many films in my lifetime.

Only two stand out over the many years.

One of them is Stanley Kubrick’s rendition of 2001, A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C Clarke. This film remains a class leader in its own science fiction genre in spite of the fact that it was produced in the 1960’s sans the many computer generated special effects available today.

But that is not the film I want to refer to today.

In 1986, ironically the year during which I was completing a course in ethics at Rhodes University, a film entitled The Mission made its debut. This film haunts me to this day, even though it is now 27 years old...

The film is set during the Jesuit Reductions. This was a programme by which Jesuit missionaries set up missions independent of the Spanish state to teach Christianity to the natives. It tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit priest, Fr Gabriel (played by Jeremy Irons), who enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a community of Indians to Christianity.

However, the storyline, although intense and riveting in itself is not the sequence or plot that holds me spellbound. There is almost a sub-plot or sub-story that takes place that is both pivotal and immense in its impact.

 Here, a mercenary and slaver, Mendoza (played by Robert De Niro), makes his living by kidnapping and selling these same Indians to the nearby plantations. The story continues whereby Mendoza finds his fiancée having an affair with his half-brother and during a sword duel, sadly kills him. Mendoza is devastated by this turn of events and proceeds to spiral down into a pit of  despair and depression. Eventually, Fr Gabriel challenges him to undertake a penance and Mendoza agrees to return to the jungle, following the Jesuits to the native Indians, dragging a huge net filled with a heavy bundle of his weapons and armour... a physical and self-inflicted punishment as a means of showing penance for the murder that he had committed. Eventually after days of gruelling hiking up and down mountains and rivers, Fr Gabriel and the Jesuit priests, as well as Mendoza struggling with his exceptionally heavy load, arrive at the Indian camp in the jungle. The Indian tribe are stunned to recognise Mendoza as the man who had inflicted so much pain and trauma on their community... they approach Mendoza, who by the stage is lying exhausted on the ground, with their knives and spears drawn at the ready...

In today’s Gospel we read the well known parable where a landowner found some workers and put them to work in his field for a common daily wage. Later on during the day, this same land owner returns to his field only to find more men seeking employment. This same landowner then employs these men and instructs them to go to work in his field. This continued to happen a number of times during the day and every time the landowner employed the men and set them to work in his field. Eventually, when the end of the day transpired and the men were all due to be paid. Astoundingly, the wealthy landowner decides to pay all of the employed workers the same amount of money, in spite of the fact that some of the men worked longer hours than others. Most trade unions today would probably call an immediate strike! However, the landowner stood his ground when some of the men began to complain. He responded with the following, “Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way...

This parable was never told by our Lord as an attempt to delineate common labour law, but rather to share another message... and a very important one too.

What then is this message you may well ask?

Jesus is telling a story that is a metaphor for the grace of God.

Remember Mendoza? Here we have a mass murderer and villain finally brought face to face with the very same community that he has persecuted for years. This time the tables are turned and Mendoza is faced by the tribe, knives drawn and held at his neck, ready to end his life in an instant. Many would say that this should be the correct action seeing that this very same man took the life of his half-brother, as well as many Indians for slavery. Everyone watching the film waits with  baited breath as we all expect the knife to plunge into his jugular vein in a violent but somehow deserved action.

Instead, the Indian man poised with his knife at Mendoza’s throat, in a deft and confident movement, swiftly moves his knife away from Mendoza’s throat and cuts the rope attaching the net containing the heavy armour and weapons. In a symbolic scene, the net, full of weapons representing pain and violence, as well as the penance for Mendoza, is set free, liberated as it rolls down the mountain and sinks into the river...

This is a very powerful scene that represents the absolute grace of God. Every person watching these events unfold fully expects the Indian to end Mendoza’s life. Yet, through grace and forgiveness, the Indian man, representing his own community, is able to let go and give Mendoza another chance. Mendoza is so overwhelmed by this event in his life that he goes on to accept priestly vows and he ends up serving the very same community that he once terrorised.

Truth be told, how could such an event unfold? It would never have transpired would it not have been for the grace of God.

How can this be?

Well Mendoza was able to see the wickedness of his ways and eventually turned his life around in such a profound way that he was now able to serve God. This is a miracle only accomplished through grace.

The same Indian man who was able to spare Mendoza’s life was able to act only through the grace of God. Once again a miracle accomplished through grace.

So we return to the parable of the men working in the fields for unequal times yet earning the same wages. Jesus is using the story to remind us that grace cannot be calculated like a day’s wages... God dispenses gifts, not wages!

Joseph Cooke said, “Grace is nothing more or less than the face that love wears when it meets imperfection, weakness, failure and sin.”

The grace of God pours out love, kindness and favour to all who trust Him. You do not have to earn it, but you do have to be in a relationship with Him to receive His grace.

We are reminded of James 4:6. “God is opposed to the proud but He gives grace to the humble.”

If we are able to humble ourselves in His light, if we are able to be truthful, and if we have faith, then we are able to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All of us are surrounded by God’s grace every day of our lives, everywhere we go, and everything we do and say. Unfortunately, most of the time we take the grace of God in our lives for granted and we forget how privileged we are to have abundant grace in our lives.

My prayer for you today and moving forward, is that all of us, and I include myself here, recognise the incredible grace of God in our lives and that we allow the grace of God to work in and through us with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that the lives of those around us are uplifted closer to God within our community of love and faith. This is not easy and will require all of us to regularly refocus on the gift of grace in our life, lest we fall back into the trap of taking His grace for granted.

Are you ready for the challenge to recognise, give thanks for and to pass on to others, the grace of God in your life?

May God bless you this week ahead as you live in and through His grace.

Amen.

 

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