Isaiah 5: 1-7 + Psalm 80 + Philippians 4: 6-9 + Matthew 21: 33-43
October 8, 2023 This homily was not delivered as I will be on vacation
The scene we call the Temple cleansing has just taken place, and Jesus stands before his adversaries with this Parable. They knew and he knew the Isaiah story we just heard, and they got the message that they were out, that the vineyard was being passed on to others. Jesus makes a big change to the Isaiah story. In that one, God destroys the vineyard. In the updated version Jesus tells, it is not the vineyard that is destroyed.
That’s all very fine when it comes to the context of this parable, but it has little to do with us today unless we want to make it a warning to leaders of the church or of nations. However, doing so gets us off the hook and just continues the scourge of our times, blaming and finger pointing.
The fact is, the vineyard, this world created by God, cared for and loved by God has been placed in our hands. We are the ones who have inherited it. Here in this vineyard, God has chosen to take flesh and be revealed to us with one expectation, that we care for it, nurture it, and produce some fruit. We don’t have to earn it. It is a gift to us. It is not ours. Yet, we are responsible.
We can either understand the message spoken to us through these words as a challenge to care for the precious and fragile environment or we can more immediately hear it as a challenge to bring in a harvest, good fruit, from this Church. If we choose to understand this parable in the first way, it looks as though we are repeating the mistakes made by those selfish tenants in the story. Already prophets who speak to us about this are too often silenced, mocked, and dismissed. Even our Holy Father is mocked by too many as he fulfills his role teaching us and speaking about our carelessness for this earth always ignoring the un-intended consequences of our actions.
If we hear this parable and see the Church as God’s vineyard where again God is revealed time and time again, there is a challenge to recognize that we really are in charge here, and something more is expected of us than simply showing up now and then. This Church must be alive and filled with living, joyful people. This Church must continue to be place of welcoming compassion, generosity, and justice. This living Church, which we area, must always look to the future not to the past listening to the cry of those who suffer from the ills of these times gathering the lost, forgotten, avoided, and shoved aside into a great harvest for the one who expects unity and peace.
Listen to the top song hits in any country these days, and you can be guaranteed to hear about spurned love. Isaiah’s love song is what we heard today. It begins with what seems like an actual friend who loved his vineyard lavishing tender care. Then, just like those hit songs, it transposes into discord when the vintage season comes and the yield is only bad fruit.
The song is over now. The friend turns to his audience, the people of Jerusalem, the people of Naples, inviting them, asking if there is anything more that could have been done. This parable is really a love story revealing God’s unrelenting, tireless love for us. We can easily become possessive rebels who want people and possessions to serve our own ambitions with no thought of offering service to someone else. By deafness to the prophets in our own times, we run the risk of becoming self-condemned tenants of God’s vineyard. Yet this loving God has sent his Son to us not because we are deserving, but because we are loved. There is still time to respect, treasure, and return that love. That would be very good fruit indeed.