Oct. 7, 2017

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY, A- 2017

“WHAT MORE WAS THERE TO DO FOR MY VINEYARD THAT I HAD NOT DONE”?

Readings: 1st – Is. 5:1-7; 2nd- Phil. 4:6-9; Gospel- Matt. 21:33-43

There is great similarity between the first reading and the gospel of today; each presents a picture of the vineyard and the need to take responsibility. We must receive with gratitude what God has entrusted into our care. He is the owner of the vineyard. 

In the first reading, the owner of the vineyard paid great attention to his vineyard. He invested energy, time and money on making sure that the vineyard produced rich harvest. But the vineyard disappointed the owner. Rather than yield grapes, the vineyard yielded wild grapes. The owner is confused about what to do with the vineyard because he is stretched to his elastic limits. Does he abandon the vineyard, expose it to harsh treatments and let it be trampled upon? 

The gospel also presents us with the metaphor of a landowner. He equips his vineyard, sets it up with wine press, builds a tower and leases it out to tenants. He sends his servants to go back and obtain the produce but the servants are met with brutal treatment from the tenants. They kill some and beat up the others. The landowner sends another batch who receive similar treatments. He then sends his son with the thought that they will respect his son. But the tenants become more aggrieved at the son, torture and kill him. Christ puts the parable to test the chief priests and the elders of the people. He wants to know what they think about such tenants. Their response is, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants”. That’s the truth. The person who comes to my mind immediately here is King David when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet. David provides an intuitive answer to condemn another person whereas he is the guilty person.  Similarly, the Jews dodn’t know that they are indirectly condemning themselves. The first reading ends like this, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!” (Is. 5:7). Christ also teels the Jews in the gospel, The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Matt.21:33). 

First, let’s understand the meaning of the parable. Here, we see a narrative of the relationship between God and the Israelites. God is the landowner who gives responsibility to the tenants, the leaders of Israel. The servants killed by the tenants are the prophets and messengers of God. Having killed the prophets, God gives them several chances to see if they would repent. He finally sends his Son Jesus Christ, but him they killed. It is this Son that is referred to in the Psalm, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22). The prophet Jeremiah points out the bad attitude of the Israelites when he writes, “I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets. Yet they have not listened to me… they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their ancestors” (Jer. 7:25-26). This is exactly the message that Christ puts across to the elders and the chief priests in today’s gospel. 

One thing is very clear in the world today; no one wants to talk about punishment. People don’t want to hear anyone preach that there will be punishment for those who do evil. Everyone wants perhaps to hear that we will all be in heaven; that everyone will be positively rewarded. That’s great. Heaven is what God intends for all of us. That’s why he created us. The problem is that we want to go to heaven on our own terms and not on God’s own terms. Isn’t that some sort of denial? Like the elders and chief priests, we pretend not to know what we are doing. The Israelites knew that the landowner would be mad at their actions, yet they killed and persecuted his messengers. But Christ says to them, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit”. 

Let’s put the question from the prophet in our own context: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” God has done everything for humanity. He has given us life, wisdom, power and dominion over the whole universe. God has beautified nature for us to enjoy. I got these few rhymes yesterday from a friend, and have been thinking about them. He says: “We cry, He listens. We sin, He forgives. We repent, He accepts. We knock, He opens. We request, He gives. We fall sick, He heals. We lack, He provides. We pray, He answers. Everything we do is about us, and everything He does is about us”. That resonates with the question above; “What more is there for God not to have done for us”? Humanity’s response to God seems to be all ingratitude, wickedness and hatred that fill today’s world. 

Think about the volume of hatred nowadays. We are like tenants who kill our fellow human beings, disvaluing and terminating human lives. Shooting and killings have almost become part of the human condition. So, the first reaction to reports of killing is no longer that of shock because it seems to be a common phenomenon. Rather, the question that is now asked is, “how many victims?” It’s the number of lives lost that matters now not the intrinsic and inviolable worth of human life in question. God is asking us what else he needs to do for us to appreciate him. He has sent us Jesus Christ his Son, and we killed him. Still God keeps forgiving us, keeps sending us grace for our salvation. It is important to for us to recognize today that if there is reward, there will also be punishment. The dual concepts will always follow: If there is good, there is evil. If there is darkness, there is light. If there is hatred, there is love. If there is heaven, there is therefore hell. Otherwise, we resort to a life of complacency, a life taken over by hatred without consequence. Christ threatened to take away the kingdom of God from the elders and chief priests in the gospel because of their wickedness, the same thing applies to us if we don’t repent. 

How about these words from Saint Paul? “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). I’m imagining a father or mother at his death bed instructing his/her children in those sweet words. Don’t you think that it implies a happy, lovely passage into eternity? We don’t need to wait till the last minute of our lives to make such lasting impressions. Can we by our actions make such impressionable statements to our kids; “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” (Phil. 4:9). Let us pray for God’s grace to set good examples to those around us. As parents, we are tenants given custody of our families, children and dependents. We must cultivate them. We must be ready to give account of our stewardship to God, who is the landowner.