Our God is a God who trusts his workers. Just as the landowner gave the tenants a fully equipped vineyard in which to work and produce, God creates the possibilities for work, fruitfulness and success for us too. He provides us with opportunities and resources and trusts that we will make the most of these. Our own, personal vineyards are completely unique. Do we recognize how our lives are molded by God? Do we recognize the opportunities and resources that God has given us? Have we experienced the freedom and trust that God gives us? Have we responded responsibly or have we responded similar to the tenants at times?
The first reading from Isaiah echoes this truth. The friend of Isaiah owns a fertile hillside, he spades it, he clears it of stones, plants the choicest vines, builds the traditional watchtower, installs the typical wine press and then anticipates an excellent and abundant harvest. What he gets instead are wild grapes. We feel the pain of unrequited love in the second half of the reading of Isaiah. We feel the pain of a broken heart acting out in anger–an earthy, anthropomorphic illustration of the disappointment God feels in his people who have not acted justly and with compassion to the lowly and oppressed.
In today’s parable we notice, that the owner of the vineyard had leased it to the tenants for a period of time. These tenants, instead being the owner’s stewards, behaved like the possessors of it. So when the time came he punished them for their stupidity. Here surely Jesus refers to God as the owner of the vineyard. What is the vineyard of God? God as we know is Ground-Being, the life itself. This life is the vineyard of the Lord.
The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. Also it is the kingdom of God on earth. A little portion of that vineyard is offered to each and every human being.
So each one’s life is the vineyard of God. He has entrusted it for a period of time. This vineyard includes our very self, body and soul, our family, our community and all that we make and establish. Thus the little portion of God’s life we handle can grow more and more and bear lots of fruits. But unfortunately many people’s vineyards yield only useless wild grapes which are good for nothing. Let us listen to what God says in the poetic writing of Isaiah about those people’s vineyards: “Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he dug it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines. Within it, he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.” As we are admonished, that when the Lord will come in his own time to check without vineyard, and we will be surely punished terribly, if your vineyard doesn’t bear good fruit. Jesus says: “The kingdom of God, namely our vineyard will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce it fruit.”
So what should we do now to get heavenly blessings from God now as well as later? First, we must maintain the life God has entrusted to us in a responsible way an work hard to make it bear good fruits, instead of wild ones. As Paul puts it, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This kind of handling our vineyard is possible only if, we are always conscious of the sole ownership of God on the vineyard.
The worker’s of iniquity will be punished and their books destroyed. Jesus warns us: “The kingdom of God (all the privileges and favours) will be taken away from you and given to nation producing the fruits of it.”
To sin is senseless stupidity, not only because it sets the creature in opposition to its Creator, the pot against the potter who moulded it, but because it is an offence of the child against its father. “Woe to anyone who says to a father, “What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labour?” (Is 45: 9 – 10). The attitude of sinful people calls into question the very fatherhood of God.
Being a child of God makes sin more grievous; “Woe to those rebellious children,” says the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not Mine, who make an alliance against My will, adding sin to sin” (Is 30:1). “For they are a rebellious people, faithfulness children who refuse to heed the instruction of the Lord” (Is 30:9).
And yet, the instant that tears and supplications arise from the people stricken by misfortune, Yawheh shows Himself to be a Father toward those who have forgotten Him. “Return, O faithless children, and I will heal your faithlessness” (Jer 3: 22). In his pastoral role He brings those who have strayed back onto the right path: “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in straight paths in which they shall not stumble; for I am Israel’ Father and Ephraim is My firstborn” (Jer 31:9).
Here is a thought-provoking reflection from Jean Galot S.J., that will console us like a soothing balm and strengthen us like a tonic. Sin is a betrayal that disappoints fatherly hopes. God’s dream has been to obtain faithful love from His children. He has arranged everything so that the people might be treated as His own: “ I thought how I would set you among My children, and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful heritage of all nations. And I thought you would call Me, ‘My Father’, and would not turn from following Me. Instead, as a faithfless wife leaves her husband, so you have been faithless to Me, O house of Israel, says the Lord” (Jer 3: 19 – 20).
We can read the parable in the social context of the time. Jesus does not necessarily approve of what people do in his stories. John J Pilch (The Cultural World of Jesus Cycle A) writes: “The parable reflects a reality familiar to all peasants, namely, the extortion practiced by hard-nosed absentee landowners. Modern scholars have pieced together bits and pieces of information to gain a better understanding of the situation of tenant farmers based on what is known about peasant free-holders, that is, peasants who were fortunate enough to own and farm their own land. Some of the crop would have to be used for trade to gain other necessities of life. There were also social dues (gifts) , religious tithes, and taxes adding up to about 35 or 40%. About 20% of the annual produce would be left to feed the family and livestock of a free-holding peasant. Far less would be left to tenant farmers who also owed land rent.”
In addition to this, in the story the landowner shows little concern for his servants/slaves and even for his own son and heir: he too in a different way is dispossessed. All are losers.
And yet the story describes reality, then and now. Injustice leads to desperation, desperation to violence, and violence to yet more violence. The more we have, the more we have to protect. There is a strong message here for society today–and for the church and its leaders. Who delivers the fruit?
With so much violence in the news, our mind could be overcome with the powers of evil. We need what St Paul says: “beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Pádraig McCarthy)