In the gospel we hear a parable of a property owner who entrusts his vineyard to tenant farmers and expects to receive a share of the grapes at vintage time. Unfortunately, these farmers are greedy and selfish; they want the entire harvest for themselves. They beat and kill the slaves sent by the owner to obtain his share of the grapes. When the son arrives, the tenant farmers believe that if they kill him they will obtain his inheritance. They have their eyes not only on one season’s crop but on possession of the vineyard itself.
What ensues is strikingly similar to what happened to Jesus himself. “With that they seized him, dragged him outside the vineyard, and killed him.” Jesus was seized, dragged out of the city and crucified. However, instead of bringing the whole human family to a bad end, this crime resulted in a surprising gift: we did inherit everything. Jesus shares with us his rightful inheritance, eternal life with the Father.
This parable builds on the image of the vineyard, already used in the Old Testament as a symbol for God’s Chosen People: “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” We are not only caretakers of a vineyard that belongs to God, we ourselves are the vineyard. So, in caring for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters, we are serving the Lord, working in his vineyard so that it will produce an abundant harvest.
The question is what sort of crop we will produce. When Isaiah told the story of the vineyard of his friend – that is, the Lord – he complained that in spite of all that the Lord did, the vineyard yielded wild grapes. Wild grapes cannot produce good wine. They yield what Pope Benedict XVI describes as “the vinegar of self-sufficiency” (cf. this week’s Spiritual Reflection, p. 187). In other words, if we do not accept and cooperate with all that our Father, the Owner of the vineyard, does for us, we cannot expect savory results. God does not make us sour; that is what we do to ourselves when we give in to our self-will and selfish desires.
Our Father provides everything – more than enough – for us to bring forth an abundant harvest at the appointed time. Daily we are being pruned and watered by God himself. Every suffering, humiliation, and rejection is a valuable pruning of our pride and selfishness. The many, many times we have received the Holy Eucharist, the many times we have been absolved of our sins in Confession, the countless messages of truth and love we have received in the scriptures and in prayer – all this is the action of God, watering us and nourishing us with grace, with his own Divine Life. He is the one who makes it possible for us to grow, develop and bear mature fruit.
Our part in the cultivation of the vineyard is well described in today’s second reading. First, St. Paul advises us, “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds.” Unchecked anxiety is a sign that we are not depending on the Lord, and that we expect to accomplish for ourselves what only God can do. Such self-reliance, and the stress that it aggravates in us, must be dismissed. Next Paul teaches the antidote to anxiety: prayer. “Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude.” The result of prayer that truly lets God be in control of the vineyard is peace – God’s own peace. The Cultivator of the vineyard is standing guard over our hearts and minds, infusing us with his peace – a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Within the safety and security of his peace, which surrounds us like a hedgerow of protection, we can dedicate ourselves to caring for others. When we are free from constant concern about protecting ourselves, we can cultivate love in our hearts that pours out to our family, our friends, our parish, our community, and all those with whom we come in contact. Relying on grace, and grateful for everything God does, we can flourish and produce a beautiful harvest for him; a harvest that gives glory to him and is a reflection of his own profound work in our soul!
Am I willing to work in the Lord’s vineyard? What kind of crop do I produce? Do I rely upon the grace of God as I labor each day?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.