Called to be fruitful
Readings: Is 5, 1-7; Ps 80, 8.1-15. 17b-19; Phil 4, 6-9; Mt 21, 33-43
The word of God for us on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time A invites us to consider ourselves as a vineyard that has been given a conducive environment and all the necessary conditions so as to produce the necessary fruits. Even if the parable of the landowner and the tenants may draw our first attention to the religious leaders and state leaders who often lack faithfulness in their stewardship, we ought not to use it to point fingers at anybody.
It is meant for each one of us to contemplate God’s tenderness and patience with us as we go through the, at times, painful journey of growth in order produce good fruits. Each one of us is that vineyard which shouldn’t disappoint the giver of life by producing wild grapes. Each one of us could be one of „those mutinous tenants“ who are meant to be stewards of the earth.
Good creation in the hands of perverted stewards
Today’s first reading (Is 5,1-7) and the Gospel (Mt 21,33-43) use the image of the vineyard to convey a message about God and about the humans. Jesus used Isaiah’s outline in order to summarize the journey of salvation and His own place in it. This he does as a response to the religious authorities who were threatened by his triumphant entry in Jerusalem and His prophetic claims in the temple. If we listen attentively to both readings, we notice a variation of the first three chapter of the book of Genesis with all the stories of violence contained therein. The Creator formed the earth as good and then created the humans in His image. They were to tend it and make it a home and a harmonious living space with one another, with God and with nature. Instead of taking care of the earth in reverence to its divine origin, humans chose to dominate the gift entrusted to them. Their vocation of being stewards was perverted into disobedience, stealing, lies, hiding, and finally fratricide. Jesus helps His listeners to have a memory about the lives of the prophets and thus, predict his own end.
How does God deal with the wretched stewards?
Asked about how the owner of the vineyard would do to those who had defied him, mistreated his servants and killed his son, his listeners make a clear reflection of the very attitudes and actions that the parable critiqued, namely they quickly condemned „those wretched men to a wretched end“. This is, in fact, the punishment which Isaiah had predicted for the people represented by the vineyard that produced wild grapes. Here we see that many times people are stuck in their old patterns of passing judgement. Should evil doers suffer exactly what they have inflicted on others? Jesus offers a completely different approach. God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Ps 118). God favors what others reject. God’s way started with the choice of lowly Israel whom the responsorial psalm refers to as the vine brought out of Egypt to be planted where it could stretch its branches (Ps 80). It continued through the prophets who addressed the faithlessness to the covenant with God and yet proclaimed God’s new beginnings. The climax of this journey is Jesus Himself. Jesus wanted no part in promoting a wretched end. He knew that God's plan would continue in people who would produce the fruit God intended: "the stone which the builders rejected" would become the cornerstone of something wondrously new. Jesus helped His listeners to articulate the problem and promised that the people of God would be transformed, not destroyed. With the parable of the vineyard owner and the tenants, Jesus offered a life-giving alternative to the transformation of the wicked stewards.
Only united with Jesus can Christians bear fruits
Jesus refers to Himself as the stone which builders reject yet it is the cornerstone for whoever wants to build rightly and meaningfully. If we reject Jesus, we dive into an abyss of meaninglessness and barrenness. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us the condition we need in order to bear fruit: „Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.“ (John 15, 4-5). Many times we struggle for improvement in the quality of our personal lives, our relationships, our families and homes, our politics and economies and forget that the one who guarantees this is Jesus. Let us involve the Lord in what we are building, then our lives will be fruitful. Count the blessings and all the graces you have been endowed with. They are all meant for your growth!
Not lords over but part of creation
We contemplate the message of today’s word of God on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (4th October). This invites us to face the challenge of this greatly admired saint. His message is very urgent for us today. Pope Francis tells us, that whereas Genesis speaks about Abel’s blood crying out to God from the earth, sister Earth herself „now cries to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her“ by plundering and „seeing ourselves as her lords and masters.“ In his encyclical Laudato si, Pope Francis calls for an integral approach to ecology which considers the earth as a common home and where the cry of the Earth and of the poor is heard. A common home has been entrusted to us. We are all stewards. In order to be people ready to bear fruits that won’t disappoint God, we ought to let ourselves be uprooted from our old patterns and be „planted“ anew. Rooted in Christ and in the values He lived and taught, we shall bring in a rich harvest to the glory of God.