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.
How can they be passing through the Pearly Gates?
How many of you have ever struggled with jealousy?
Oh, jealousy, that ugly response that can lead to ugly things!
We all fall prey, do we not?
I can recall Gordon Appleton, athletic, blond high school swim team star,
who effortlessly swam to victory.
I was not happy with second place.
I was uglily jealous. And, as a result, I never got to know him.
Jealousy is sadness at another person’s good: looks, achievements, possessions, position, relationships, whatever.
Sadness at good? Terribly disordered.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello”, the general is wrongly convinced by Lago, junior officer at his command, that his wife is unfaithful.
We hear Lago say,
O beware, O lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meet on which it feeds.
Jealousy plays tricks on the mind. And, heart.
St. Augustine (+430) says, “He that is jealous is not in love.”
As it intensifies, jealousy becomes envy—deadly sin.
The sadness at another person’s good becomes anger and contempt, with a desire to destroy the good.
Terribly, terribly disordered.
Hence, the words of Proverbs 14:30,
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot”.
The book of Wisdom (2:24) reminds us,
“By the envy of the Devil death entered the world”.
The chief priests and elders are jealous, becoming envious, of Jesus, and are unable to hear and welcome him.
Just before this passage, in the first half of Matthew 21, we have Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus cleansing the Temple, and Jesus “cursing” the fig tree—all displays of authority, which these leaders either witnessed or learned.
Their response? A question, but not a question seeking truth and encounter: By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?
Jesus refuses to engage. Jesus never wastes His time. He is not dismissive, and, in fact, mercifully gives them an opportunity to think, thinkers that they should be. He meets them somewhat on their turf, but, quickly moves on.
Matthew 7:6 comes to mind: Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz in Germany, in the early part of the 9th century, comments on this passage, saying, There are two reasons why the knowledge of truth should be kept back from those who ask; either when he who asks is unfit to receive, or from his hatred or contempt of the truth is unworthy to have that which he asks opened to him.
Jesus is not going to share what is in His heart. And, yet He does! He “moves on”
to revealing things of the will of God and the Kingdom of God. Revelation is Jesus sharing what is in His heart…
The will of God is not, as we sometimes think, specific courses of action, the game-plan of God, but relationship with God. Our relationship with God begins and ends with the attraction of God. We respond to Him who first loves us. (cf. I John 4:19) Our response must be real and concrete.
“Let us love in truth and action” St. John tells us (I John 3:18).
“The proof is in the pudding” (a wonderful 14th century expression).
There is a liberating truth revealed in this parable. Which son “did the will of his father”? The first. The one whose response was not immediately enthusiastic, but who came around and acted.
There may be times, in our relationship to God, when we are not enthusiastic, when we are indifferent and feel like we are going through the motions. There may be times when our response to God’s invitation is negative, and we get entangled in other stuff.
Worry not! It is never too late to come around —like the workers of the 11th-hour in last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16). The wasted time is not held against us.
The kingdom of God is not, as we sometimes think, a place or a set of ideals or a way of life. The kingdom of God is also, in the end, relationship with God, the King.
And, the most unlikely people are entering into this relationship. Tax collectors and prostitutes! In other words, those whose lives are very messy,
whose lives do not seem to be an immediately enthusiastic response to God’s invitation, those who got entangled in other stuff.
There is a liberating truth revealed in this. Our brokenness is not a hindrance to God’s attraction, to God at work in us, inviting us into relationship. All we must do is, in the midst of the brokenness, aware of our unworthiness, is cry out in faith.
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,
but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.