Francis J. Horn, O.S.A.
Treasurer and Secretary
Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova
Is 5: 1-7
Ps 80: 9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Phil 4: 6-9
Mt 21: 33-43
As you probably have observed, there is a striking resemblance between our first reading today from the Prophet Isaiah and the parable Jesus tells in the gospel. In both cases, the audiences are “set up.”
Isaiah speaks of his “friend” who planted a vineyard. This friend did everything possible to make the vineyard a good one: he turned over the soil, he cleared it of stones, he planted the choicest vines, he built a wall around it to keep out the wild animals. There was nothing more he could do. And yet, when the crop of grapes came in, they were wild grapes–sour ones; certainly not worth all the trouble and work he had invested.
And so, this “friend” of Isaiah decides not to bother anymore with the vineyard. He decides to let it be overgrown and trampled upon. Isaiah’s listeners all agree that the owner made a wise decision–that the vineyard was not worth any more effort. And then Isaiah has them! He explains that they–the people of Israel–are the bad grapes coming out the vineyard of the Lord. God had given them life, had freed them from slavery, had given them their own land, and this is what he gets in return: people who ignore him, who treat one another with indifference, who go their own way. Isaiah’s warning to the people is clear: start producing some good fruit or God, as you have all agreed, will be quite justified in letting you be overrun and trampled
Jesus, in the gospel, uses much the same technique. But his story has a slightly different twist. In Jesus’ parable, the vineyard produces good grapes, but the ones reaping the benefit forget who the master is. They forget that he is the one who cleared the land and planted the seed, he is the one who made the good yield possible. They don’t want to give anything back to him in return–their attitude is that they no longer need the master. The conclusion is the same as in Isaiah’s parable: the audience agrees that the servants deserve to come to a bad end. And then Jesus says, “I’m talking about you!”
In our own lives, there are times when, despite the grace of God, we choose to produce bad fruit. As with the Israelites through Isaiah, God tries to call us back–to change our ways, to seek reconciliation, and to begin to produce good fruit. And then there are times when we do produce good fruit, but things are going so well that we forget about who our Master is. As individuals, as Christians, and as Americans, we do a great deal of good. We try to help those less fortunate than we are, we respond to those in need, and we feel compassion for those who are afflicted. Witness the outpouring of generosity and prayers for the recent victims of natural disasters, and of the evil and carnage we experienced this week in Las Vegas.
Yet there are times when we are reluctant to give what is due to the Master in whose vineyard we work. We fail to recognize that we are able to respond to others and to offer them hope because we have first been blessed so much. We think that our gifts and resources are ours, to do with as we please. And so, we can tend to be ungrateful; we can view the Master as far off and not requiring our attention; we can use the gifts and blessings we have for our own benefit and ignore those around us.
Today Jesus is calling us to recognize the source of our plenty, to give thanks, and to give back to the Master by living as God wants us to live. Then, as Paul tells us, when we are honorable, just, pure, and gracious, the God of peace will be with us.