These past two Sundays we have heard gospel parables about vineyards. First
there were the workers who were called into the vineyard and worked different
hours of the day, but still received the same pay. Then, last week, the father
asked his two sons to work in the vineyard. One agreed to go but did not: at
first the second resisted, but changed his mind and did as his father requested.
Today an absent land owner sends his servants to collect produce from his
vineyard. But they are abused by the tenants, who even kill the owner’s son. In
this country vineyards were usually just in a few wine-producing states. Now,
there are so many states that grow wine grapes that there is even a ranking for
the top 10 – though California still produces 90% of the wine in this country.
The love of wine and the care of vineyards goes back to ancient times and that
is the backdrop in today’s readings.
In scriptures, the parables of the vineyard are allegorized and vineyards are
symbols for God’s people. In the first reading Isaiah’s song of the vineyard
sounds like a simple image of country life. A vineyard is carefully and lovingly
planted. But then the tone changes, as the owner goes looking for grapes...,
"but what it yielded was wild grapes." What began as a lovely festival song
becomes a warning about God’s judgment on the chosen people. Which directs us to
Jesus is addressing the religious leaders, the priests and elders of the
people. There are also strong allegorical features in the parable. The vineyard
is Israel; the tenants, the religious leaders; the series of servants, the
prophets; the son, Jesus the Messiah; his murder, the crucifixion. But after the
parable Jesus quotes Psalm 118 (verse2) which hints at the resurrection. "The
stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has
this been done, it is wonderful in our eyes!"
Reginald Fuller ("Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church
Today") has an interesting take on the parable. He suggests it is "all too easy
for the church to allegorize this parable" (page 177). Instead, he notes,
Matthew adds the closing verse 43, which points to the mission and
responsibility of the Gentiles after Israel’s rejection of the gospel. Fuller
also notes that the extreme behavior of the tenants suggests that we Christians
are to be as resolute as the tenants were in our grasping and holding on to the
kingdom of God. It is a different approach. If the preacher chooses to take it,
we will have to be careful not to suggest violent action, but the determination
and energy to hold on to the valuable gift God offers us.
This is another parable in which we must be careful not to heap blame on the
Jews for not accepting Christ, the owner’s son. The parable speaks to whomever
has responsibility in God’s vineyard. The kingdom has been entrusted to all of
us: parents, teachers, volunteers, ordained ministers of the church etc. The
parable becomes an examination of conscience for us. How have we received and
treasured the Good News of God’s kingdom? Have we workers in the vineyard
brought forth a harvest of good fruit?
We are not called upon to establish a triumphant church in the world. We are
a minority religion and may remain so. Rather, we must live the gospel as
faithfully as we can and, through our lives, make Christ present everywhere. As
the parable suggests, our times are urgent. Each day a reckoning is asked of us
– to bear fruit in the part of the vineyard to which we have been sent.
I am not sure what will be taken away from us if we are not trustworthy
stewards. By not being responsible to our call as disciples, will we have
divided interests, too focused on immediate gain and pleasure with no view to
what lasts? Will the talents that each of us has been given to serve just dry up
from lack of use? Will the lack of vision that serving God offers, result in our
being distracted and divided, instead of our being people of vision and
The parable has an urgency to it. It reminds us that an accounting of our
service will be required of us. We will be asked for fruit. The judgment is not
just for some future time, but is present right now. That is why the parable,
like all the others, is a grace. It is a wake up call urging us to pay attention
to our primary tasks, to reorient our lives towards what is important and of
lasting value for us.
Jesus asks the religious leaders what they think the owner should do to the
wicked tenants. They respond that the tenants should be punished. But Jesus
isn’t telling them a parable for their mere speculation. They fail to see
themselves in the parable and so they missed the grace for conversion that Jesus
was offering them.
What other fruits are we to produce from the vineyard? A look to the Isaiah
passage helps us. Isaiah tells us that God was looking for judgment, but found
bloodshed; for justice, "but hark the outcry." A central mandate throughout the
Hebrew texts calls for the establishment of justice and righteousness. In other
words, God wants justice for the people and the rights of every one respected,
especially those who are poor and the least in society.
So, in our own country’s debate over healthcare we ask, how will the
sick and vulnerable be protected? Will God find in our nation just
judgment for all? For example, the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops suggests a path to justice and right judgment during this time
of debate over healthcare. In a letter to the Senate regarding the
Affordable Care Act, Bishop Mark Dewane, the chair of the bishops’
Committee on Justice and Human Development wrote:
"The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urges you to oppose
any effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a concurrent
replacement plan that protects poor and vulnerable people, including
immigrants, safeguards the unborn, and supports conscience rights."
Click here for a link
to this Sunday’s readings:
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
"What more was there
to do for my vineyard that I had not done?"
Isaiah 5: 4
When it comes to care of creation, unlike the landlord in this vineyard
story, we have been woefully remiss in its care and we have exacerbated climate
change by our arrogance. We may have viewed clear-cutting a tree-filled property
as progress; we may love the convenience of miles and miles of super highways
and strip malls with vast concrete parking lots; we may cherish our beachfront
property built on shifting sands; we may view recycling as an inconvenience; we
may say nothing when corporations dump waste into our rivers and streams,
discharge chemicals into our air, and cut off mountain tops for profit. As Pope
Francis states, "We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters,
entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by
sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the
water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself,
burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor;
she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22)" (Laudato Si’, 2). The environmental
challenge that we are experiencing, and its human causes, affects us all (cf.
Laudato Si’, 14) and demands our response. We can no longer remain silent
before one of the greatest environmental crises in world history" (2/15/16).
What did we do to our vineyard? We cannot deny what is happening.
Pope Francis shares these additional reflections: "First, the ecological
crisis is real. ‘A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are
presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.’ Science is
not the only form of knowledge, it is true. It is also true that science is not
necessarily ‘neutral’—many times it conceals ideological views or economic
interests. However, we also know what happens when we deny science and disregard
the voice of Nature. I make my own everything that concerns us as Catholics. Let
us not fall into denial. Time is running out. Let us act. I ask you again—all of
you, people of all backgrounds including native people, pastors, political
leaders—to defend Creation" (2/10/17). We can do better, we have to do better,
for all the generations to come.
Interested in being part of a new Care of Creation ministry, contact
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the
run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish
bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
"Therefore, I say
the kingdom of
God will be taken away from you
and given to a
people that will produce its fruit."
An accounting of our service will be required of us. We will be asked for
fruit. The judgment is not just for some future time, but is present right now.
The parable is a wake up call urging us to pay attention to our primary tasks
and to reorient our lives towards what is important and of lasting value for us.
So we ask ourselves:
- What is my unique work in the kingdom of God?
- What gifts do I have to do this work and how well am I doing it?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW
"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It
should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each
week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to
write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten
them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s,
"People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Terry L. Robinson #0349019 (On death row since 4/10/00)
- Mark L. Squires #0688223 (5/17/00)
- Christina Walters #0626944 (7/26/00)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the
Catholic Mobilizing Network:
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