Today I received a letter of complaint from a parent, threatening to report me to my "superiors," for brainwashing his son whose name remained anonymous. The issue, it seems, is that the father doesn't want to pay for an education that includes research on Covid-19, Climate Change or Systemic Racism. According to this parent, an English class should focus on "English" and not on politics. I have yet to pen my reply, but I will point out that the three topics I have assigned for exploration are not in themselves political (though they have been politicized); rather, they belong in the field of Social Justice, which is integral to the mission of the university.
The politicization of social realities from wearing a mask to believing in climate change is doing the world a disservice. Most medical experts agree that the failure to wear a mask or observe social distancing has resulted in tens of thousands of casualties: This is scientific fact, not a political statement. Most civil rights activists would agree that the failure to hold police accountable in the deaths of Breonna Taylor and other African Americans demonstrates that not all citizens are equal under the law: This social commentary is supported by statistical data. And most scientists would agree that the world is in the throes of ecological catastrophe: This claim is based on global scientific research involving shifting climate patterns, rising temperatures and pollution.
"Brain-washing" has no place in higher education. Ignorance regarding social justice issues and the survival of humanity don't belong there, either!
PS Try my spiritual self-assessment tool! After you take the Quiz, you will automatically receive a computer-generated diagram and explanatory comments regarding your strengths and "growing edges." I hope you find the Quiz useful!
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He said to the first, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' This son replied, 'I will not, '
but afterwards changed his mind and went to the vineyard. The man approached his other son and gave the same order. This son replied, 'Yes, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first son."
Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.""
Matt 21: 28-32
The lack of details in today's Gospel is frustrating. In the first place, we never discover why it is that the father wants his sons to work in the vineyard. Perhaps the vines need pruning, or perhaps it's harvest time. Or maybe he is tired of seeing his sons lounge around the house, doing nothing constructive. Then again, the father may be short-handed-- we will never know. It seems, however, that he orders his sons to work in the vineyard without giving them any details, either. And he expects obedience. For their part, it is clear that neither of the sons wants to work. Again, there are no details. They may have other plans, or perhaps they had a late night. Then again, they may consider vineyard work to be beneath them -- hard labor better left to field hands. In the end, the son who initially says "No!" honors his father's request while the son who initially agrees, fails to show up.
But the parable is more than about obedience. The chief priests and elders have just challenged Jesus, asking him by whose authority he heals and teaches. In this exchange, which Matthew places shortly after the The Cleansing of the Temple (Mt 21:12-17), Jesus tells his opponents that he will answer their question if they can answer his question: "Where was John's baptism from? Was it of heavenly or human origin?" (Mt 21:25). Of course, this is a trick question as both answers would put the religious leaders in a bad light -- either for failing to listen to John's teachings or for denying his prophetic mission. Their response, therefore, is simply, "We don't know."
Back to the parable. While Jesus still doesn't reveal the source of his authority, he does distinguish those who pay lip service to devotion from those who respond whole-heartedly, even if their societal status is questionable. The vineyard, of course, is the Kingdom of God. The son who claims to be obeying his father doesn't step foot inside the vineyard; like Jesus' religious adversaries, he is wrapped up in his own affairs and status, neglecting his calling; moreover, he is a hypocrite. The son who is initially disrespectful and rebellious, however, like the marginalized people who listened to John the Baptist, reconsiders his position.
What's at stake here, is the Kingdom of God, not just at the time of Jesus but in our own 21st Century context. Who are the keepers of the Kingdom? The princes of the church who may be caught up in their "careers," their privilege and their politics? Or ordinary people leading messy lives who do their best to live in a way that is authentic, loving and compassionate?