It’s pretty obvious that Jesus had the first reading from Isaiah in mind when he began his parable. The first reading was about a landowner with a vineyard. He spaded it, cleared it of stones, built a watchtower and a wine press, and very importantly he planted only the choicest of vines. He cares for his vineyard very well. And yet what does he get from the vineyard come harvest? Wild grapes. It’s an absurd and impossible result given all the owner had done for his vineyard, but it is the result nonetheless. So the landowner does what is reasonable: if the vineyard can’t produce, let it be abandoned.
So that’s the story Jesus’s listeners would have been familiar as a story they grew up with when he began his parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, and built a tower. But what Jesus does with the parable beyond just predict his own Passion and Cross, was to reveal a God who has love and patience beyond what we would call reasonable.
In the parable it is time for the harvest. The landowner sends three servants to collect his produce from the tenants like they agreed. They beat one, kill one, and stone one. At this point in the story, what would be the reasonable response of the landowner? Probably something involving anger and the punishment of the tenants, right? But instead the landowner stays calm, puts the whole thing in the past, and says, “alright, I’ll just send a larger number of servants and the tenants will do what they agreed to.” The tenants instead treat the servants in the same way, beating, killing, and stoning them. Now at this point in the story, what would be the reasonable response of the landowner? Again, probably something involving anger and the punishment of the tenants. But instead the landowner becomes almost irrationally merciful and sends his own son, thinking the tenants will respect him. The tenants – who don’t seem to be the most intelligent of people – kill the son thinking they will somehow get his inheritance. At this point in the parable, Jesus actually asks his listeners what would be the reasonable response of the landowner. And they say what we have been thinking for a while now: something involving anger and punishment. They say put them to death, and give the vineyard to tenants who aren’t thieves and murders. And Jesus then says if you can’t produce the fruit of the kingdom, then it will be taken from you and given to someone who can.
When we reflect on our lives, we must begin with an incredible gratitude at the patience God has shown us as a human family and as individuals. We as his holy people are his cherished vineyard and he has poured so much effort into making us fruitful. He has given us our faith, our sacraments, our Scripture, even His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. When humanity did not respond well to its own Creator, throughout salvation history He let us try again… and again, and again to be who He made us to be. Humanity should have been rejected and abandoned by God for all the violence and hatred and evil that came from it over the ages, but instead he sent His Son. And when we aren’t fruitful in our own individual lives He let’s us try again… and again, and again to be who He made us to be. If he treated us reasonably instead of with His radical mercy… none of us would be here.
From that gratitude, then, we can all strive to produce the good fruit that God patiently waits for. As St. Paul says, have no anxiety, but by prayer and petitioner and thanksgiving keep bringing yourself to the Lord. If you want to be the good tenants who produce fruit as the holy people of God, then keep your mind on whatever is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and gracious and worthy of praise. Do what you have learned and received from Christ. And if you want to be truly holy… imitate what we have received from God.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.