God’s Vineyard Is Salvation History

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 5:1-7 – Philippians 4:6-9 – Matthew 21:33-43.

Here’s a question for you. How far has humanity failed to realize that human beings are only the caretakers of the earth?

Well, the simple answer is that whenever someone has ambitions to be the leader of the planet or to position himself at the centre of the universe, what follows in his wake is disorder due to a disregard of God, the creator, sustainer and owner of the earth. The Psalmist was correct when he said that the earth belongs to the Lord, and everything in it; the world and those who dwell therein (Ps 24:1). Yes, in every generation, we are only the caretakers, and in many ways, we have failed in our duty to handle the resources of the earth with proper care and attention. Our mandate from God to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28) should be understood not in the exploitative sense of kabash but, rather, in terms of harnessing and managing the earth fruitfully. Today, the cries of how our common home has been degraded remind us of our role as carers of the earth. We have to imbue our responsibility as labourers for the kingdom of heaven on earth with an ecological spirituality that acknowledges people as vines in God’s vineyard.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord tells the parable of how some wicked tenants planned to usurp the vineyard that was not theirs, and ultimately to possess it. According to the custom of the times, a vineyard was usually planted on tenanted land owned by a landlord. By agreement, the landlord left the cultivation of his vineyard in the sole care of the tenant(s) until harvest time, when a percentage or a fixed amount of the fruit became due to him. It is in this context that our Lord tells a story of a landlord who sent his servants in two batches to get the agreed produce from his property, but were all killed by the tenants. Believing that his only son would command their respect and get them to pay up, he sent him, but they killed him too. This situation was used by Christ to demonstrate the stubbornness manifested by the tenants (the Jewish leaders) to God (the landlord) who never stopped sending messengers to them, even His only Son, Jesus the Christ. The lesson is that no matter how often human beings try to play God, reject Him, destroy His messengers or even His own Son, God remains the rightful Landlord of the vineyard, and retains the power to end any contract with unjust tenants and install others.

Every tenant of a vineyard knows at first hand the never-ending amount of attention and fortification it requires. It is the individual tenant’s function to care for the vineyard in order to ensure that the vines produce good grapes in good numbers rather than a harvest of sour grapes. In the First Reading, Yahweh regards Israel as his vineyard – the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel (cf. the Responsorial Psalm). He wills Israel, his own planting, to produce at least adequate grapes, but instead the harvest is of wild grapes. As punishment for the tenants’ failure to accomplish the will of God and to reciprocate His love, Israel’s dignity and respect will be diminished, just as a vineyard loses much of its value when it fails to produce good grapes. For us today, the site of ‘the vineyard’ covers three areas: first and foremost, our hearts; secondly, the kingdom of God (the Church) here on earth; and thirdly, the society in which we live. Christ entrusts us with these sites of the ‘vineyard’ and expects us to cultivate them, to care for them and to render proper stewardship to Him at the end of the day. We must be very careful to avoid emulating the attitudes and actions of the unjust tenants. There’s nothing new under the sun (Eccles 1:9) … there’s always a worm of greed busily burrowing away! Over time, these sitting tenants were tempted to assume proprietary legacy, placing themselves on a par with the unseen landlord. The tenants’ myopic opinion of their truth over against God’s truth appeared to them to be identical, which is why punishment was imposed.

The wicked tenants were malicious in refusing to pay their landlord what they owed, in eliminating all his servants and in killing the only son, the heir to the father’s property. They tried to usurp an inheritance that was not theirs. They were driven by malicious greed to have all the produce for themselves and greed caused them to destroy anyone in their way. Today we see on our televisions and online a procession of people possessed by an uncontrollable desire to possess kingdoms, nations, property, power, recognition and wealth, and who are ready to take out anyone standing in their way of achieving their material goals. On a much smaller scale, we too can be guilty of malicious greed, greed which leads us both to neglect the very foundation of our lives Who is God, and also to our justifiable judgement by God (cf. Mt 7:2). The context of the parable is the judgement of God. Universal salvation is not what Our Lord preached. He used the language of judgement throughout the Gospels. Christ is the cornerstone of the heavenly Kingdom, and rejection of Him brought its magnificent earthly edifice down upon the heads of the wicked tenants after His death, resurrection and ascension. While we have confidence that God’s mercy is always open to us, faith without actions is dead, and genuine trust in Jesus is evidenced through the fruit of repentance. The tenants selfishly breached their agreement with the landlord in refusing to give Him his due. Furthermore, they failed to repent of their behaviour. We might sometimes find ourselves wanting, claiming and hoarding the good things of life for ourselves without considering the needs of others. In hoarding material items for ourselves and (by extension) for our families, we can lose sight of the many who suffer as a direct result of our selfishness and/or ill-will, and incur God’s ire.

Credible ways of helping ourselves to overcome undesirable attitudes include following St. Paul’s admonition (in the Second Reading) is to fill our minds with everything virtuous or worthy of praise. Purposefully directing the mind that way will help to develop our spirit of solidarity with, and empathy for, those around us. It is vital for us to recognize that we are accountable to God for the way in which we use His specific gifts to us (1Peter 4:10f), and that whatever we have is only given to us for not just our own good but for the good of the many whose lives we should touch positively (Rom 12:6-8). We do not want to take the patience of God for granted (2Pet 3:15) or be caught up with His holy anger (Rom 1:18ff). So we pray to Jesus, our cornerstone (Eph 2:20): the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Ps 118:22). The cornerstone is the first stone to be laid, the foundation stone, the primary support of all the other stones which are placed upon it and held firm by it. Jesus is the Word of God, spoken for the purpose of creation, and the Foundation of God’s new creation to help us to continually build upon Him for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (1Cor 3:11). Keep relying on Him for every support (Ps 46:1ff) and for victory over every temptation (1Cor 10:13). Amen. God bless you.