Shrine of Devotion, Shrine of Mission
In this section, we will publish regular blogs from the shrine
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27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: We are Tenants in God's Vineyard
October 8, 2017
The central imagery of our readings for today is the vineyard. A vineyard is a plantation of grape-bearing vines, grown mainly for winemaking. This is not a common image for us in the Philippines but in Israel in Biblical times, this is one of the most common sight.
Because of the ubiquity of the vineyard, the vineyard in the Bible has become the image for the people of God and later, the church. The Jewish people– Israel–had classically referred to themselves as a vineyard planted and nurtured by God.
In the first reading, Isaiah tells about “a friend” who carefully built a vineyard, clearing stones, building a watchtower, planting the choicest vines. He even “hewed out a wine press.” But his vineyard yielded bad grapes. Then in a vivid language, God called the chief priests and elders as this vineyard and that he is going to destroy them and trample them down because they would not let God’s love grow up among them!
This imagery is continued by Jesus in our gospel today. In the parable, the owner of the vineyard planted the vine, dug a winepress, and built a tower. But Jesus went further. He has the owner rent his rich vineyard to tenants. Then he trusts his tenants to raise choice grapes. When in due season he sends servants to collect the yield but the tenants beat or stoned or even killed his servants! Finally the owner sent his own son thinking that the tenants will certainly respect his own son. But the tenants also killed his son.
Our readings teach us two major lessons. First, we are just tenants of God’s vineyard. We don’t own the vineyard, we are just tenants or better still stewards. Second, we need to cooperate in making the vineyard fruitful. The fruitfulness of the vineyard doesn’t mainly come from our work. In both the stories, the owner of the vineyard, who is God, plants the vines, spades the soil, removes the stones, and protects the vineyard. If the vines bear fruit, it is because it is God who worked so hard at the vineyard. It is the fruit of God’s Spirit actively working in the tenants. Fruitfulness therefore means our utter openness to God’s work and mission actively operating in us. Again, it is not our work but God’s work, not our mission but God’s mission.
As tenants we need to listen to the prophets and messengers of God amongst us. Many times we have looked at Jesus parable in the gospel today as God’s taking away from the Jews the original privilege of being chosen people and giving it to us Christians. However, this is not just true to the Jews but to us Christians, as well. As the saying goes, history repeats itself.
Over the centuries, how many prophets in our Christian communities have been rejected, abused and even killed? We think of Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Oliver Plunkett and, in our own times, Bishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Rudy Romano, and all the countless prophets who were killed, disappeared, tortured and excluded from our community. Prophets disturb our comfortable life, wake us up in our complacencies and dare us to be bold and daring in living the gospel of the Lord even if it goes against the tide of the times.
In terms of fruitfulness we need to examine what grows amongst us in the vineyard: Is it a crop of grapes or wild fruit? In various ways, we have within our community a good share of selfishness, power grabbing, domination and stubbornness. The very same social ills that we see in the world at large can be found right within our own community: oppression, violence, racism, sexism, economic injustice, and marginalization.
To become worthy tenants actively cooperating in the fruitfulness of God’s vineyard, it pays to heed to the words of St. Paul in today’s Second Reading:
Brothers and sisters, 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.
Let us pray that we become humble tenants producing sweet and juicy grapes in the Lord’s vineyard by the daily witness of our lives.