October 4, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
Isaiah 5, 1-7 + Psalm 80 + Philippians 4, 6-9 + Matthew 21, 33-43
We all just stood up to hear Jesus Christ speak to us directly from this Gospel. To sit down now and to think that we have heard Jesus of Nazareth attacking the chief priests and leaders of the people is to completely miss the point and somehow dis-engage the Gospel from real life. It is not about them. It is about us. They are entrusted with the care of God’s creation and God’s children. They blew it, and in a clever trap with this dialogue, Jesus gets them to condemn themselves.
History and Literature are full of stories about tenants and landlords. Almost always, the landlord is the bad guy and the tenants are victims of greed and abuse. This parable is different, because the landlord is the good guy and the tenants are the bad guys. It ought to leave us a little troubled and perhaps disturb our consciences which we so often like to keep quiet. This is a stark reminder that we are expected to bear fruit, that the owner, God, will come to collect, and if there is no fruit to return, it will not go well for us.
I am not a firm believer in coincidences, because I believe in a provident God. Yet, it is wonderful and helpful today to hear Jesus speak to us this way on the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, and during the time of leadership by a Pope named, Francis who has spoken to us time and time again about our responsibility for this earth, God’s vineyard. How we care for it matters, because it’s not ours. The earliest story in our scriptures reveals God’s intention by putting us here with clear instructions. We ought to learn a lesson from this Gospel about how it goes with those who begin to think that just because they are here it belongs to them and they can do what they want with it.
We are warned today by the truth of this Gospel that this earth is not ours, and that the one to whom it belongs expects us to bear fruit and return it to return to him. To whatever extent we may have become possessive and ambitious, we run the risk of becoming self-condemned tenants of God’s vineyard. We are not placed here to build huge estates for ourselves or amass great portfolios and fat bank accounts. God is not interested in any of that. In fact, as Pope Francis has warned, this quickly slips into idolatry. What God longs for then and still today is social justice and integrity, and things that bring peace. When the master comes and finds us well fed, fat, and comfortable while 2/3rd of his children are hungry, it isn’t going to go well. When more than half of what gets produced on American farms goes to waste and spoils on grocery store shelves, we won’t have much to show the master. When the master comes and finds people refusing to speak to one another, a life-time of broken promises, violence, abuse, and the hording of this vineyard’s goods, we cannot pretend that the master will be pleased.
The truth is that sitting here on a Saturday afternoon in October there isn’t much we can do about it, but when we leave here, we could get at least get interested, study, and think about how what we might change, improve, and empower the right people to make some reforms, to minimize this damage we are constantly doing to God’s creation. The chief priests and elders of the people eventually solved their problem by taking the master’s son out of town and killing him just as their ancestors silenced the prophets who interrupted their comfortable lives and troubled their consciences. Leaving this Gospel message in the church, and deciding that religious values have no place in our secular lives the rest of the week does the same thing. When the prophetic Francis, Pope of Rome is written off or ignored because we think he should be taking care of pious or religious matters, the same disastrous consequences are likely to follow. The good news here is that we know how it works with God, and that this vineyard owner is yet to come. But, he will.