Readings: Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mat 21:33-43
Inclusion, exclusion, lust and failure to produce fruit are the key words that help us 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 another vineyard parable. In contrast to the past two Sundays the parable has a terrible and a violent character. On the one level we can say the parable has been fulfilled in Jesus' passion and death on the Cross, but on another level it actually 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 the song of Isaiah about a friend who had a vineyard. Isaiah uses poetic imagination to describe God’s disappointment with his vineyard, which is his Chosen People, Israel. Psalm 80 confirms this interpretation: “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” Instead of yielding the expected good grapes, Israel has yielded only sour grapes. Therefore, God no longer protected the vineyard. 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 partisan politics of deception for selfish reasons, leading to politically motivated economic crisis. On the Church level, we are reminded of what happens when those who serve take ministry as a personal possession or territory, thereby blocking even the owner from entering into the territory!
The similarity between the Gospel and the first reading is quite 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 because of infidelity, treason 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 thinking of the root causes of the complicated economic and financial crisis currently facing the world today. The parable focuses on greed, reckless ambition, betrayal of public trust and incredible mismanagement. This crisis provides an opportunity to examine our own lives as Christians on how we are carrying out the trust placed upon us by Christ. By virtue of our Baptism we have been called by the Lord to be the new workers in the vineyard, namely the Church. We are expected to produce fruit at the proper time. To help us produce fruit, the Lord in his great kindness sends us teachers and prophets, who challenge and lead us to repent and so accept his gift of forgiveness. The message in the Gospel is clear. Today as in the past, the prophesy of Jesus in relation to the Church is fulfilled. There is no shortage of betrayers, corrupt officials and disloyal workers in the vineyard in God’s name! So what message do we take home? 1) Greed, scheming for quick profits and deception, were at the root cause of the betrayal and breach of trust by the tenants in the Gospel. The readings therefore invite us once more to become God’s faithful tenants of his vineyard. 2) We are challenged to change our perspectives on life and faith issues. Rather than focusing on selfish gains, we need to focus more on doing things that benefit others as well. 3) On the civil society and Church levels, when institutional organs fail to produce the expected results, that calls for taking the “vineyard” away from those in power; it calls for reforms, for change and transformation at all levels of Church and society. Now is the opportune moment.
©2017 John S Mbinda