First Reading: Is 5:1-7; Psalm: 80. R. v. Is 5:7a; Second Reading: Phil 4:6-9; Gospel: Mt 21:33-43
GOD DESIRES GOOD GRAPES, GOOD TENANTS
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Vine is a deciduous plant. It is delicate and seasonal too. By spring, the nodes begin to swell and bud. Soon afterwards, it produces new leaves and pollination follows. When the grapes begin to ripen around summer, the plant will need proper pruning and irrigation to maximise ripeness. By autumn, the leaves begin to colour, wither and fall away. Growth ends and harvest should be completed. Winter time is the vine resting period until spring when pollination begins again.
Grapevines need the best care to get the best fruit out of it. It is susceptible to fungal disease in moist climate and needs proper treatment against insects. As it ripens, it needs the right quantity of water and pruning to avoid overgrowth and to make it healthy. Grapevines need an arbour or any appropriate support to direct their growth upright; for they need to grow hanging down. Farmers expend time to care for grapevines to have a rich harvest.
In Isaiah’s song of love in the first reading of today, Isaiah illustrated by means of an allegory God’s effort in establishing Israel. Isaiah used the image of a vineyard to express God’s special care for his people. “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” In this song of love, Isaiah illustrated that God did everything necessary to make Israel yield good fruits but instead, Israel yielded wild grapes. This is like a wasted resources; a wasted effort. Of what use are wild grapes in a vineyard?
In the gospel reading, Jesus told a parable of the wicked tenants. In this parable, a householder planted a vineyard that yielded fruits. But the tenants kept in charge of the vineyard denied the householder the fruits of the vineyard and killed his servants and his son to covet the harvest to themselves. Again, of what use are tenants or labourers to a landowner if they failed in their responsibilities to turn in the harvest of the land and resort to greed, covetousness, and wickedness?
Both the first and the gospel readings speak about us. We are God’s vineyard that yielded wild grapes. We are the tenants kept in charge of the vineyard but enveloped by greed, covetousness, and wickedness. The planting of a vineyard demands so much care and attention. If we paid attention to the details of Isaiah’s song of love in the first reading, we would see that God did everything necessary to make his vineyard yield good fruits. God chose a fertile hill, He dug it and cleared it of stones. God then took his time and planted this fertile ground with choice vines. Not any kind of vine but choice vines; the very best of vines. God also built a watchtower to guard the vineyard from thieves and rodents. And then, God hewed out a wine vat which means that God was completely positive that with all his efforts the vineyard will produce sweet grapes for the production of sweet wine. But as God’s vineyard, we failed on our part.
The temptation we are often faced with is taking God’s effort for granted. When we look around us, all that we have and are were not made in one day. We are products of God’s masterpiece. God has given all that it takes to make us productive and useful to our world. Our lives, jobs, families, friends and all the resources at our disposal are all gifts from God that should bring out the best from us. But often times, our decisions and actions are so selfish that they contaminate the good fruits we ought to bear. When we are pervaded by greed, selfishness, covetousness and wickedness, we produce wild grapes.
In the scriptures, we cannot speak of a vineyard without thinking of wine. Traditionally, a wine press is usually built in a vineyard for wine production; for of what use is a vineyard without wine. In the scriptures, wine symbolises joy and celebration. In fact, for the Jewish people, if there is no wine, there is no celebration. The shortage of wine at the wedding in Cana almost truncated the joy of the celebration but for Jesus’ intervention. The prophet Isaiah in describing the heavenly kingdom with the illustration of a mountain, also highlighted that at the heavenly banquet, there will feast of choice wines (Is 25:6). So, wine also symbolises the joy of heaven.
This explains how grave the actions of the wicked tenants are. Because they not only deprived the vineyard owner of the fruits of the vine but also of the wine from the fruits. They not only killed the servants and the son of the vineyard owner, but they also tried to stash away his means of joy and celebration. As tenants of God here on earth, we often deprive God of his expectations of us. We have hurt people and participated in the execution of Christ time and again by choosing love over hatred and greed over generosity. By our actions we have condemned and deprived ourselves of the heavenly reward. But there is still hope.
God is ready to lease his vineyard to tenants who will give him the fruits in due season. We can be this tenant when we begin to realise that our actions have consequences both to us and to others and begin to act honourably. When we are just enough to take only what is due to us and give to others what is due to them. When we choose not to covet what belongs to another even when we possess every needed means to do so. When we desist from the act of force and intimidation done at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable. When we shut our envy eye and learn contentment and gratitude. When we do not requite the kindness and generosity of people with selfishness and wickedness. When we always remember that we are God’s tenants and are accountable to God. When we begin to act honourably in this way, we qualify to be the new tenants that God wishes to lease his vineyard to.
As God’s vineyard, God has put in a lot to establish us; and God has entrusted a lot to us. So, God is fair enough not to require too much from us. All that God asks from us is to bear fruit; good fruits that will be beneficial to our world. This is not too much to ask. To do this therefore, we will have to heed the admonition of St Paul in the second reading of today. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8). And most importantly, do these things.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for the grace to be good tenants; and for the disposition to bear good fruits. Amen.