How ‘bout Them Grapes?
Proper 22 Year A
This is a somewhat outrageous parable, for it describes a somewhat outrageous situation. A land-owner leases his vineyard; a lease implies an agreement.
It is harvest collection time, and the tenants to whom the vineyard has been leased, kill the servants who come to retrieve the fruit to which the landowner is entitled per ownership and per the agreement.
What is that all about?
Then what happens?
The landowner sends another round of servants, larger in number; and the tenants kill these servants. Now, at this point, one would normally conclude: “problem!”
and send no one else—save law enforcement—for fear of more killing.
Then what happens?
The landowner sends his son—alone. Naïve and imprudent, to say the least? When the tenants have killed several of your servants, you do not send your son into harm’s way.
The tenants are crazy.
Moreover, they actually think that, by killing the son, they will get his inheritance!
This is not how it works.
Remember that this is a parable, wherein illogicality can serve as a doorway to something deeper. The landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence are very significant.
This parable can refer to the prophets and to the Son (of Man/of God) coming to the Chosen People, the Jews—to whose leaders Jesus is speaking. They have been entrusted, in a special way, God’s vineyard. In a sense, they are the vineyard.
In Isaiah 5:7, we read, “The vine of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel.”
Given this covenant with Israel, we might find this parable disturbing. God seems tempestuous and vengeful, like He breaking the covenant. Know that Jesus never makes declarations of definitive denial. This is not Jesus looking into His crystal ball. This is Jesus making a strong appeal to an opening of the heart, to these leaders who hearts are not terribly open because of entitlement. This is an invitation, not a verdict.
We must, of course, ask how this parable applies to us, today. We must ask what is being revealed to us who are “tenants”, i.e. children of God, to whom the life of God is entrusted and in whom the life of God must bear fruit. God shares with us His life, not because He is lonely, but because goodness, by nature, radiates.
What is the fruit that must come forth in our lives, which the landowner would like to be able to “collect”? We can surely consider the fruit(s) of the Spirit,
i.e., what the life of God does in us. 9 or 12 of them—depending on your translation: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. These characterize relationships between Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
Which leads us to John, chapter 15, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine,
of us as branches on the vine which must bear fruit, and gives the new commandment to love one another.
The life of God, entrusted to us “tenants”, must produce the fruit of love for one another. Indeed, if our hearts have been lovingly seized by Jesus, we cannot but love our Sisters and Brothers.
Being loved by God transforms and expands the heart, enabling us to love divinely—even enemies.
This perhaps explains the persistence of the landowner. In actuality, the landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence is persistence in relationship and the bestowal of gifts. With each visit, the landowner gives more of himself,
until he gives everything in his son. Why does the divine landowner do this?
Because goodness, by nature, radiates. Also, because God sees how we struggle to love one another.
We have been drawn into the Body of Christ with people who are very different.
It is frankly a little much, a little intense for our sensibility. We also all have, of course, that one person who really pushes our buttons such that we bark and maybe even bite, or despairingly wave the white flag.
God, however, never grows weary. He persists. So much does God persist that “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!”
Normally, a rejected stone is, well, rejected. God always triumphs. Divine love will triumph in our lives. All we must do is dare to hope. All we need to do is cling to Jesus. When you receive Him in the Eucharist, express your hope.
Acknowledge the struggles to love, and ask Him to transfigure your heart.
In a few moments, we have the privilege of witnessing the Baptism of Carter and Daniel. Daniel and Carter become fully members of Christ and His Body, the Church—and secret partners, co-sojourners, in faith. The Baptism of children is a particular testimony to the “landowner’s naiveté and imprudence”: the gift of grace, the kingdom of God, gratuitously bestowed upon them, who have no idea what is happening (!). Oh, the haste of divine love: no time to waste.
Christ Jesus makes us all His own. And so, we press on in Him, like St. Paul says in our second reading, with a heavenly call, preceded by divine love.
How blessed we are.