“You too go into my vineyard!” Ever since the beginning of the mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, this very invitation has never failed to resound in the course of history. It is addressed to every person who comes into this world. It is being addressed to each of us with a greater urgency today: “You too go into my vineyard!”
The “vineyard of God” is a biblical image with deep roots in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the house of Israel as the “vineyard” or as the “vine” of the Lord, who planted and watered it, preparing the Israelites to bear the fruit of righteousness (cf. Is 5:1 7; 27:2-5). But Israel failed to yield good fruit and the Lord allowed his vineyard to be overrun by conquerors (cf. Ps 80:9-20). However, God also promised that one day he would replant his vineyard and its shoots would extend to the ends of the earth (cf. Am 9:15, Ho 14:5-10).
Today’s Gospel parable builds on this “vineyard” tradition. The landowner is God, and his vineyard is his Kingdom. Those hired first are the Israelites, the first to whom God offered his Covenant. In Jesus Christ, the Covenant relationship with God is extended to all the nations of the world and to every period of history. The parable is about the generosity of God, who is so eager that all nations be saved that he keeps “going out,” seeking more workers to send into his vineyard.
Jesus also used the biblical image of the “vine” to reveal the truth about himself and our relationship with him. “I am the true Vine, and my Father is the vine grower…. I am the Vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:1, 5). Jesus is the Kingdom of God in Person; he is the new Vine of God, and we are called to bear fruit by being branches of the Vine. So the invitation: “You too go into my vineyard” is an urgent call to take our place in God’s Kingdom, to be branches of the Vine of Jesus Christ. The wages of working in the vineyard are a full share in the life of Christ, and in the Covenant blessings promised to the House of Israel of old. Anyone can receive a full day’s pay, including those who were evangelized in later periods of history and those who respond to the call of faith later in life. God is generous with his money! He is free to bestow the blessings of eternal life on whoever is willing to accept them.
Jesus repeats and renews this invitation with urgency: “You too go into my vineyard!” The urgency is highlighted in today’s reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call to him while he is near.” There will certainly come a time when it will be too late. Jesus can be found now; he is near now; so now is the time to respond to his invitation by accepting to go into his vineyard. His goal in calling us is not simply to use us as laborers. He wants to share with us his relationship with the Father, to make us sons and daughters of God.
How do we remain attached to the Vine who is Jesus and so work in God’s Kingdom as his beloved sons and daughters? The power to do so comes from God, but we must make a personal response by striving to live according to his will. St. Paul describes this way of life as striving to “conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” There is no better way of evangelizing than through an authentic Christian life. With aggressive atheism, secularism, and indifference to God pushing God out of our societies and suppressing Christian values, how are we working in God’s vineyard to counter these influences? How do we live our Catholic faith?
St. Gregory the Great gives us this wise advice in his homily on this Gospel: “Examine your way of life, dear brothers, and see if you have started to behave as God’s workers. Think carefully about your actions and consider whether you work in the vineyard of the Lord. For whoever in this life seeks only his own interest has not yet come to the Lord’s vineyard. Indeed those who work for the Lord think of the benefit of their Master and not their own. Under the impulse of charity, they apply themselves to the works of mercy, strive to win souls, and rush to lead others to walk with them to life. As for the one who lives for himself and feeds himself on the pleasures of the flesh, he is rightly reproached for remaining idle, since he does not work to advance the work of God” (St. Gregory the Great, Homily 19, 2).
“Why do you stand here idle all day? … You too go into my vineyard!” We have no excuse for standing around idle or for wasting any time. Every day gives us new opportunities to work in the Lord’s vineyard. St. Paul affirms that we can serve the Lord either “by life or by death” – by active works of charity or by hidden sacrifices, by direct action or by prayer and suffering. If we are carrying crosses of sickness and pain, we can unite these sufferings with the saving work of Christ and offer them up for the conversion of sinners, for peace, for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This too is a wonderful way of being and working in God’s vineyard. What is essential is that we decide to listen and respond to the invitation of the Lord: “You too go into my vineyard!”
How can living an authentic Christian life be a way of evangelization? How can my hidden sacrifices, sufferings and prayer be a way of working in the vineyard of the Lord? How is God calling me to work in his vineyard?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.