2 October 2011
Recently a certain man was bitterly complaining to his friend that the government had made a court order taking almost all his farmland from him because they wanted to build a big highway and it was necessary for the development of the area. They told him that he would be compensated for the land taken. But he just could not accept this. He said that his family had lived on the land for many generations and it was now being taken from them unfairly. He said he could never forgive them no matter what reason they gave for this.
In the gospel today we have a parable about another piece of land, this time a vineyard. Here the original owner of the land planted a vineyard. He put a hedge around it, dug a winepress and built a tower. He obviously spent a good deal of money hiring people to do all this for him. Then when all this hard work was done and now that the land was much more valuable because of this development, he leased it to some tenants. These were given the finished product so to speak. They didn’t even have to do any planting. Their task was to wait for harvest time and gather in the harvest. At harvest time the owner who had gone away sent some servants to get his share. It was the practice that he would have paid the tenants in one way or another, by money or giving them part of the harvest.
Amazingly, not only did these tenants refuse to give the servants the produce due to the owner but they actually either injured them or killed them. They probably felt the owner was far away and wouldn’t have been able to do anything in the short term. But the owner persisted and sent some more servants in the hope of getting what was due to him. There was no change of heart on the part of the tenants who acted as before. It seems odd at this stage that he didn’t arrive himself with many servants to deal with the situation. He seems to have been incredibly patient hoping for a change of heart despite all appearances to the contrary. Finally the owner sent his son hoping this might resolve the matter. To me this seems an incredibly naïve response on the part of the owner. Surely he must have been realistic enough to know that the son would receive similar treatment. And so he did.
Jesus addressed the parable to the chief priests and elders of the people. It would not have been too difficult for these to know that Jesus was speaking about the way that the Jewish people treated the many prophets sent by God. These religious leaders would have known that the parable was addressed especially to them. They had been given authority by God to lead their people. Yet, how much violence and oppression was being committed in the name of that authority. The readers of Matthew’s gospel would have realised that the son in the parable was Jesus himself and that he had a similar ending to many of the prophets who spoke on behalf of God – persecution and death. Finally, they knew that the prophecy of Jesus was being fulfilled even shortly after his death. “The kingdom of God would be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit”.
In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah we hear that the Lord “expected justice but saw bloodshed; righteousness but heard a cry” v.7. The God of life and love wants justice to rule in the midst of his people and he wants the rights of everyone, especially the poorest to be respected. These are the fruits that the vineyard, which the Lord planted and cared for, should have produced.
Perhaps the Good News of today’s gospel is that God never gives up on us. God continued to send prophet after prophet to call the Chosen People, the People of Israel back from following false gods and not practising justice and righteousness especially on behalf of the poor ones. In spite of great rejection over the centuries he then sends his beloved son in one last throw of the dice, so to speak. One might well think ‘how could he have been so naive?’ But it is not about naivete but of God’s incredible, constant, unwithdrawn love for his people. Finally when he met with rejection he invites the non-Jews, the Gentiles to be his co-workers.
Where are we in all this? What type of grapes do we produce – good grapes or the sour grapes spoken of in Isaiah? In today’s readings from Isaiah and Matthew, God’s chosen people are described as belonging to God’s vineyard. The temptation is to act as if the vineyard (God’s physical and spiritual gifts) were our own private property. It’s not; it is God’s, and it is meant for the whole world. We are only the harvesters. We must share the harvest – physical and spiritual – with the whole world.
“Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, help us to be good and faithful workers in your vineyard in return for so much love and the so many gifts received. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA