Sunday Homilies by Fr. Rudolf V. Dí Souza

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 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 2, 2005; Year: A
Is. 5:1-7; Phil. 4:6-9; Mt. 21:33-43

The fruitful shall inherit the Kingdom of God.


First Reading...
"Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard; My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!" [Is. 5:1-7]

Second Reading...
"Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you." [Phil. 4:6-9] 

Gospel Reading...
"Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: 'Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.

When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?' They said to him, 'He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.'

Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." [Mt. 21:33-43]

When Jesus began to tell the parable that is the gospel of today he began with an image familiar to his listeners - including you and me. This image is the vineyard, and the word 'vineyard' usually symbolizes some kind of spiritual good.

But now Jesus took this image, surely dear to the hearts of the Galileans who listened, and turned it on sort of up side down.   You know, it's not unusual for Jesus to take a word or an image associated with the holy and turn it around and associate it with the dark.  He did it in the Parable of the Leaven for example.

So as I understand this parable, it is Jesus' commentary about groups and about what happens when there is no real community, only collections of people, none of whom understands or cares about other each other.  We have come thousands of years since Jesus told this parable, and in some ways we have made wonderful progress in
community building - even our nation is one example, another our own Journeying Community. There have also been disasters too. Take this country again - and our present readiness to destroy others to preserve our own. Is this the way to fulfillment?

But now the parable and its plot:  A landowner goes to a distant country and there he establishes a vineyard--in imagination it is in Galilee--and he rents or leases the vineyard to local people and agrees to accept a portion of the produce as payment. He then returns home--probably some cosmopolitan city such as Caesarea  Philippi,  Jaffa  or Jerusalem. Time passes; the harvest season comes and goes and so does the time when he is supposed to receive his payment.  The grapes that the vineyard  produced he might now be willing  to accept as raisins, but he receives nothing.  He is troubled, downright angry.  He expects his payment when it is due, and nothing arrives, not even an explanation.

There is a total lack of moral involvement here; the landlord buys, leaves, and waits for his money. He is totally indifferent to what is happening back at "the farm." He probably lives like a king many miles away. The lives of the tenants are as nothing to him.   He could present day C.E.O.  and millions of stock holders who have no clear idea to what use their investment are used.

This landlord sends his slaves, emissaries or the Rent Squad, as you will.

A party of three goes to the vineyard, and being completely unprepared for a violent encounter, they suffer greatly. One is knocked in the head with a rock, another is beat up and a third one is actually killed.

We can only guess at what the landowner makes of this situation. Perhaps he does not even know what has become of his rent collectors, so he sends a second deputation consisting this time of a more than three persons, a cadre now--but they receive a similar rough reception of beatings and a killings. But still no rent.

In this parable, there are potentially three communities: tenants, rent collectors, and landlords; they are totally separate from one another. Community requires shared beliefs, and in this parable there are none.  We could hear in this details the present day situation among Israelis - Palestinians; we hear Indians and our neighbours, Pakistanis.  Enmity that never is soothed.

Eventually the owner in a truly idiotic fashion sends his own son who is, the owner thinks, able to protect himself by his status in society alone so it seems.   When he  shows up, the tenants perhaps miscalculate and presume that the owner is dead. So, believing the son to be the sole surviving heir, they kill him in the expectation of acquiring the vineyard for themselves. The plan is absurd and illegal, just as it would be today, but they are driven by their otherwise hopeless economic situation.

These tenants, probably decent, honest people in the beginning, have now become truly a dangerous band, and now they have gone beyond the law and are criminals.  The reason is the desperate need for money to survive. Under these circumstances, their behavior is not surprising.

One verse in Matthew 21:33 is very important. It says that the landowner LEASED the land to the tenants. It does not say that He gave it to them. He LEASED it. When something is leased, something is expected in return. Equally, those who qualify to become the children of God, are expected to become shining lights [Mt. 4:16] in the world. They are expected to shine in the love of Christ towards all. They are expected to grow in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. These spiritual qualities are what the Heavenly Father expects His children to present to Him in return for His blessings in acknowledgement and appreciation of the gift of life that God has given them through the Blood of Christ.

[Think about it this way for a moment.  We are all tenants on borrowed land; none of us owns the earth.  Do we care for this piece of 'land' we've been given?  We are also landlords and might lord it over others. We need to see how we treat those who share the earth with us.]

Now near the end of the parable, Jesus asks "... when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" And the answer is that the owner will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his produce at the harvest time. Perhaps. But the he same lack of trust will spring
up on both sides again.

Tenants such as these become hard strapped for cash and simply try various strategies to avoid paying to the landlord fees or rent or a portion of the produce.  The story is about to repeat itself until some saving insight develops on all sides. Half of the world's population lives even today on less than Rs 100 a day! And a billion go to bed hungry every night.

Jesus' parable is provoking; it is a strong warning about the consequences of groups estranged from one another.  In it, all are 'foreigners' to one another; nothing is in harmony; the world is out of order, and it was against that state of things that Jesus social teachings were directed.

By way of contrast to so such negativity, the parable implies that we are the tenants of the new land where we are called by Jesus. We both cultivate and receive cultivation. We have been given a treasure within us and around us and asked to take good care of both.

Well then having spent these minutes dwelling with such awful disorder, shall we close with what are more happy, consoling words, lines from another source - from one who was a worker in the vineyard of the Lord; he truly was a worker, a true tenant.

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