Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 8, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 5:1-7 / Ps 80 / Phil 4:6-9 / Mt 21:33-43
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
The gospel this Sunday gives us the parable of the vineyard. It is actually a disturbing parable because it refers to the rejection of the prophets and the Son of God by the people of Israel, the chosen people of God. This ultimately led to the death of Jesus on the cross.
As the gospel suggests, the history of Christianity is a history of rejection. It is a story filled with rejection. If you look back through our history of salvation, God first sent prophets to be His servants in His vineyard, but they were killed by the so-called tenants of the Lord’s vineyard. Later, God sent His only son thinking that the tenants might respect His son, but again, Jesus was hunted by the elders and the chief priests and was killed.
In 1978, a man flew to Cincinnati to attend the funeral of a man named Max. For the past twenty years, Max had been like a father figure to this man. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this except for the fact that as a fifteen-year-old, this man stole his mother’s car and killed Max’s five-year-old son just a few weeks before Christmas.
A shocked judge heard Max’s request that the charges be dropped soon after the accident. Instead, he wished to employ the death-car driver and assist him with his schooling. Max accomplished all of this and more by essentially adopting the fifteen-year-old youth into his household. Max opened his home, time, and compassion to the disturbed adolescent. How could Max do this? Why would someone befriend a youngster who had just murdered his five-year-old son? Max must have been insane to go out of his way to become a father figure in this way.
In today’s gospel story, God is portrayed as a landowner who created a magnificent vineyard for His people to manage. When harvest time arrived, He dispatched His servants twice, but they were all slaughtered. The people wanted the entire harvest, not just a portion of it. Again, the vineyard is Israel. The planters are the Jews. The messengers, prophets, and leaders were meant to lead God’s people back to Him, but they were sometimes rejected and slaughtered.
Finally, He sent His son because He assumed they would respect Him, but they also killed Him. He understood what was going on, but regardless, He sent His son. God’s love for us is without condition, but as a consequence, the Jews lost their vineyard, and it was given to the pagans (us) who have received the faith in Jesus.
This parable is also a warning to all Christians, and to each of us personally. Is being a Christian just fulfilling minimum obligations like going to Mass on Sunday, receiving Holy Communion? This parable is also a warning to us Christians because we must accept God’s messengers: prophets, teachers, the hierarchy itself, the pope, and anyone who helps us read the signs of the times and see in them the loving hand of God who urges us to produce good fruits.
Heeding such messengers will immediately pinpoint areas of deep trouble in our weak faith: immorality in the family, corruption in the government, and the scandalous injustices from top to bottom in our society today. We cannot afford to become complacent and rest on our traditional forms of piety, hoping that being Christians will give us salvation. The Jewish people were deeply religious too, and yet lost the kingdom, because their fruits were nowhere to be found.
The parable also teaches us a lot about God and how He relates to us. First, we see the providence of God: “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: 33a) Before God entrusts a responsibility to us, He makes provisions for all that we will need to carry out that responsibility.
The parable continues, “Then He leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” (Mt 21:33b) This shows God’s trust in us. God does not stand looking over our shoulder, policing us and making sure we do the right thing. He leaves the job to us and goes on vacation to a far country. God trusts that we will do the right thing. Unfortunately, many of us do not.
The story also highlights God’s patience with us. God sends messenger after messenger to the rebellious managers who would not render to God His due. With each messenger, God provides another chance for us to put an end to rebellion and to do the right thing.
Finally, there comes a last chance. God plays His trump card, and He sends His only begotten son. If we miss this last chance, we miss it for good. In the end, we see God’s judgement in which rebellious humanity loses their very lives, and their privileges are transferred to others who are more promising. The picture is that of a providing, trusting, patient, but also just, God.
From this we can learn about ourselves and how we stand in relation to God. First, we see human privilege. Like the managers of the vineyard, everything that we have is a privilege and not a merit. This is what we mean when we say that everything is God’s grace. Grace is an unmerited favor. Life itself is a privilege which can be taken away from any of us at any time. Privilege comes, however, with responsibility. We are ultimately responsible and accountable to God for the way we use or abuse our God-given privileges. God has given us all we need to make a judicious use of all our privileges, yet we retain the ability to abuse it. This is called freedom.
The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, as this parable is sometimes called, is a parable on the misuse of human freedom. Let us today pray for the wisdom and courage never to abuse our privileges, but rather to make good use of all the privileges and opportunities that God gives us.