Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20
The image of the chosen people as the Lord’s vineyard was familiar to the Jewish people, as our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah shows. God had planted the vineyard, nurtured the vineyard, tended the vineyard, but it still did not produce grapes. In spite of all the loving attention the Jewish people had received they not only failed to produce fruit, but they even rebelled against the owner of the vineyard, mistreating his servants and murdering his son. The message of Jesus’ parable is clear – the Jewish people had squandered their inheritance and failed to respond to the nurturing of a patient and loving God. In the place of good fruit was discord and division, and so God would lease his vineyard to others who would be able “to yield a rich harvest.”
It should be clear how upsetting Jesus’ parable must have been to the Jewish leaders of his day. Jesus is in Jerusalem, the place where his earthly journey will end. His teachings recounted for us by Matthew carry extra weight, for they are the instructions of a teacher who is running out of time, and Jesus likely realizes that this parable will inflame the religious leaders who were unduly proud of their religious observance. Indeed, the gospel tells us that “when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard these parables, they realized [Jesus] was speaking about them. Although they sought to arrest him, they had reason to fear the crowds who regarded [Jesus] as a prophet” (Matt 21:45-46). Jesus was making a very specific point, but like all of his parables, his message was not solely meant to shame or chastise a single group of individuals like the religious leaders, for his teaching was also meant to challenge listeners of every age. It is for that reason that the Scriptures are considered the living Word of God.
On our part, we are meant to understand that the owner of the vineyard has a right to expect good fruit, and we are called to labor in the vineyard with the goal of producing fruit in abundance. What is the nature of that fruit? St. Paul gives us a hint when he tells us that “our thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise. With St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we just celebrated (Oct. 4), we are called to be “instruments of peace” in the vineyard.
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.
Where there is friction, let me sow union.
Where there is error, let me sow truth.
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith.
Where there is despair, let me sow hope.
Where there is darkness, let me sow light.
Where there is sadness, let me sow joy.”
If we find the world in need of love, then it should be our responsibility to be more loving. If the world is in need of justice and fairness, then we are called to be just and fair. This is the fruit spoken of by Jesus in the gospels and by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and contained in the Church’s twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit: chastity, faithfulness, generosity, gentleness, goodness, joy, kindness, love, modesty, patience, peace, and self-control. The richness of our harvest will be measured by the evidence of such gifts in our lives. In the time that is allotted to us, may we work in the vineyard as good and grateful stewards, producing fruit in abundance for the greater glory of our loving God.