How ‘bout them Grapes?
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2023
An outrageous parable because an outrageous situation.
A landowner leases his vineyard; a lease is an agreement.
Collection time, as agreed,
but the tenants kill the servants who come for the landowner’s produce.
Take 2: the landowner, quite the optimist, sends another round of servants.
At that point, one might declare, as did Jack Swigert, command pilot on Apollo 13, when an explosion occurred aboard the spacecraft en route to the Moon,
April 14, 1970: Houston, we’ve had a problem!
A prudent landowner would pause before sending anyone else.
But what happens? The landowner sends his son!
What is he thinking?!? What naïveté and im-prudence!
The tenants are irrational, so irrational that they actually think that,
by killing the son, they will get his inheritance! Not how it works.
Remember: this is a parable,
and the illogicality serves as a doorway to something deeper.
The apparently naïve and imprudent persistence of the landowner is very significant.
This parable can refer to the prophets, servants, and Jesus, the Son,
coming to the Chosen People, tenants
—although it is not a declaration of definitive denial on the part of the latter.
Jesus never makes declarations of definitive denial.
Jesus always appeals to openings of the heart. Divine mercy is infinitely creative.
Today’s question: how does this parable involve us?
Suppose we are the tenants and the landowner wishes to collect his produce.
Two questions arise:
We are children of God in whom the life of God must bear fruit.
God shares with us His life, not because He’s lonely,
but because goodness, by nature, radiates.
And what is the fruit that must come forth in our lives,
which the great landowner wishes to collect?
If I may appeal to John, chapter 15, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine,
and of us as the branches on the vine in whom His life flows,
and in which He gives the new commandment: love one another as I love you.
The fruit is the love between us.
The life of God in us must come forth in love for one another.
If my heart has been lovingly seized by Jesus, I cannot but love others,
whomever the Lord sends across my path.
Being loved by God transforms and expands the heart,
enabling and moving us even to love enemies.
This is where the persistence of the landowner begins to make sense.
He persists because love is urgent. He persists and so love is victorious.
Indeed, Jesus promises the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church,
His Body, born of that love.
He persists because we struggle to love one another and He is all-merciful.
We have been drawn into the Body of Christ with people who are very different.
It’s a little much, frankly!
And, in the broader circle of our lives, we all have at least one person
who so pushes our buttons that we either bark, bite or wave the white flag.
We struggle to love one another.
The landowner, Christ, however, never grows weary.
He persists. He works with our weakness.
St. Paul wrote from a dark, damp Roman prison cell, just before his death in AD 67,
to Timothy, who had earlier ministered alongside him:
If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself
In other words, Jesus will never break His promise of faithfulness.
We have been grafted onto Christ; He will not let go of us.
And our part in this? Stepping out in faith, in acts of love:
Hear the advice of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, (published 1952):
Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you do. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you love someone, you will presently come to love him.
Let us let ourselves be loved in the Eucharist and then go forth choosing to love.