The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time October 8, 2017
Isaiah 5, 1-7 + Psalm 80 + Philippians 4, 6-9 + Matthew 21, 33-43
Saint Joseph Parish in Norman, Oklahoma
There is a dangerous temptation with this parable to sit back comfortably and use these verses to point a finger at another in a self-righteous distortion of what Jesus has to say. He would not take that any more from us than he would have from his contemporaries, so we must not go there. In times past, this parable has been misused to justify anti-Semitism and a kind of “replacement theology” that is totally outside the lesson. This is not about the Jews being replaced by the Christians. The story is told to encourage repentance and reveal something about God, not to pass judgement on someone else. There is nothing here to allow us to find some kind of self-affirmation. So, before we begin to cheer over what happens to the villains, we need to look further into the text, listen, and ask how this applies to us, not to someone else, not someone with authority, and certainly not to someone who lived ages ago. This parable is spoken out of a living Gospel to you and me. Pay attention to the very last verse: “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
We are the tenants of this vineyard created by God. It has been entrusted to us with the expectation that we will cultivate and tend this vineyard in order to produce fruit not for ourselves, but for the owner of this vineyard. This parable exposes the foolishness of ever thinking: “It’s mine. I earned it, and I’m keeping it.” This is not our vineyard. We don’t own it. We cannot afford to forget that it was here before we came, and it will be here after we are gone. What we do while we are here with what has been entrusted to us matters to the owner, and what we do or do not do has consequences for our future.
With this made clear by the Word of God, we might do well to take a careful look at what is happening to this vineyard under our care. There are several ways to look at or define the vineyard: our families, the whole human family, the church, and this planet earth itself. It might be a good and safe idea to anticipate the time when we will be asked to produce something from our presence here. We can start with a look at our own families and how our role in those relationships has been the cause of some grace, faith, holiness, and peace. We can look as well at the whole human family, looking to see how much unity and peace we have nurtured, how much greater justice has been reaped because of us. Poverty and Sickness, Homelessness and Hunger are like those wild bitter grapes we heard of in the first reading. When the stones of injustice are cleared and spaded, a life less bitter and less wild will be the produce we can offer the owner.
It must be the same with this church entrusted to our care. The owner has some expectations about what will come of the sacred mission entrusted to us in terms of revealing his goodness and love, and the sharing of his forgiveness. Finally, there is this earth itself that demands an accounting for what we have done with this beautiful creation entrusted to us. The Holy Father has reminded us that our sister Earth, is crying out to us “because of the harm we have inflicted by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”
Jesus told this story to tenants who had forgotten who they were, acting as though they were the master of everything. There is violence in this story, and the futility of that kind of behavior is made clear. In the plan and dream of God revealed in the first story of the Bible, there is a harmony and balance between the creator and the created, a harmony and balance in nature itself. As we examine ourselves and look at what has been produced while we are tenants, we might also remember how carefully and lovingly the landowner of this parable prepared and cared for this vineyard: the planting, the hedge, the press, the tower – all revealing how perfectly it was prepared for us. We who are made in the image of this owner probably ought to care for the vineyard of our family, our brothers and sisters, this church, and this earth with the same careful and loving touch.
The Psalm we have sung today should probably be our song as a song of repentance, promise, and hope: “O Lord, God of hosts, restore us; let your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.”