Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it,
dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. (Mt. 21:33-43)
Today’s gospel is so now. What were they thinking? How did the tenant farmers ever get it into their minds that they had the right to keep the grapes and vineyards that they did not own and justify killing the owner’s servants and then his son? To better understand this Sunday’s parable, we need to consider the situation back in the time of Our Lord. Very often, farms and vineyards were owned by the wealthy, who may have lived a great distance away. They were not present. So, by taking over the farm or vineyard for themselves, the workmen would be part of a rebellion and theft against the owner.
The vineyard in the parable from the Gospel of Matthew is a source of turmoil because the workmen have been keeping the fruit for themselves. The workmen here are the elders and leaders of the Jewish people. They were more concerned with themselves than with the work of God’s kingdom.
Jesus came at a very inopportune time for the Jewish leaders. Consider this. Politically, these leaders were winning concessions from Rome that would keep them in power financially. If they lost these concessions, that could throw them into poverty. For the leaders of the Jewish people, this was not a good time for a Messiah to appear.
But God was ready. The timing was perfect. At this time, the way that Rome interlocked culture, economics, and military conquest made the timing perfect for spreading the Gospel. Is the current situation of this nation any less an image of the vineyard and the laborers? The past few years have revealed that powers and principalities are misusing and disrespecting those they should be caring for.
Christian stewardship is being ignored at best and discredited at worst, evidenced by the breakdown of the unity of purpose in the universal church. The church seems to be unable or unwilling to mirror the image of the good steward. There has been no real effort to acknowledge the past (with all its shortcomings and unchristian acts). The pilgrim /evangelizing church has been dormant. What is the remedy?
St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated last Wednesday, maybe the model. Francis recognized early in his life that concerns about power, position, and finances could lead a person to act like a wicked vine-dresser. At the time of his radical conversion to Christ, his friends told him that the time was not right for him to turn so completely to God. He should wait until he was well established; then, he could be generous to charity.
But Francis heard a call for immediate action. So, he renounced all his possessions and embraced a life of poverty. In his poverty, Francis became, perhaps, the richest man in the world. It was clear to Francis that what God wanted for him was better than what he wanted. This must be clear to us as well.
Many of us are not ready to stand up for the right. We sometimes are halted by the feeling that things are so bad, and there are too many challenges to tackle all at once. Well, that is the time that God will stand with us and guide us to boldly proclaim the good news and hold accountable those who fail to shepherd the flock with care and love. It is our Christian duty to speak out.
We live in a time which is marked by an ever-increasing level of senseless violence. If we do nothing to challenge violence, we become complicit in aiding violence. We must pray for the conversion of the hearts of those who contemplate these horrific actions. Pray also for meaningful laws that support enforcement of the control, use, and availability of firearms.
We need to get involved in Catholic action groups calling for an end to the sin of racism and the death penalty and lobby for laws that create an option for the poor and the marginalized. There is much work to be done. God does not expect us to save the world. He has already done that. He expects us to be good stewards in the vineyard. What are we thinking?
Author: Deacon Al Turner was ordained a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Washington. He now serves in the Archdiocese of Atlanta at St. John Vianney parish and as a Catholic Chaplain at the Atlanta International Airport.