Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43
Inclusion, exclusion, lust, betrayal and failure to produce fruit are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on the Mystery of the Church as the vineyard of the Lord. In the Gospel, Jesus gives us yet another vineyard parable. In contrast to the past two Sundays the parable has a violent character. On one level we can say the parable has been fulfilled in the Passion and death of Jesus on the cross. On another level, the parable applies to every generation of Christians, including our own. Jesus prophesies the rise of servants who will rebel against the vineyard owner (God himself), and attempt to take it over by force for their own purposes. In the first reading we listen to Isaiah's song about a friend who had a vineyard. Isaiah uses poetic imagination to describe God’s disappointment with his vineyard – the People of Israel. Instead of yielding good grapes they yielded only sour grapes. Therefore God will no longer protect them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell in 722 BC about twenty years after Isaiah began his ministry. The southern kingdoms also fell after two centuries. The message of Isaiah is that the Lord looks for faithfulness to his Covenant, but only finds infidelity and betrayal. We can hardly listen to the prophesy of Isaiah without thinking about what is happening in many nations in the world today: rejection of Christian values, corruption in high places and the disregard for human rights.
The similarity between the Gospel and the first reading is striking. Jesus builds the parable of the vineyard around the vineyard song of Isaiah. The parable begins with inclusion and ends with exclusion and replacement of tenants because of infidelity, betrayal and failure to produce fruit. It is a powerful message from Jesus on the consequences of infidelity and betrayal. Just as in the case of the prophecy of Isaiah, one cannot read the Gospel of this Sunday without identifying ourselves as being the tenants who rebel and betray the owner of the vineyard. The parable underlines the root causes of such betrayal: greed, lust, ambition, betrayal of public trust and incredible mismanagement. Both the first reading and the gospel challenge us to examine our own lives as Christians on how we live out our stewardship entrusted to us by Christ. By virtue of our Baptism we have been entrusted to work in his vineyard - the Church. We are expected to produce the fruit of holiness at the proper time. Yet we rebel against God. To help us produce fruit, the Lord sends us teachers and prophets, who lead us to God’s mercy and compassion, and so become the best version of ourselves. So what is the take away message? 1) Today as in the past, the prophecy of Jesus in relation to the Church is fulfilled. There is no shortage of rebellion, betrayal, corruption and disloyal workers in the vineyard. 2) The gospel parable calls our attention to the temptations of greed, lust and deception, which often lead to betraying God the owner of vineyard. 3) The good news is that God’s mercy is greater than our unfaithfulness. God has once again entrusted us to work in his vineyard - the Church. He gives us a second chance to produce fruit by becoming the best version of ourselves