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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bearing Good Fruit – Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (10-2-2011)

Today we are challenged by the implicit question that this parable presents to us: What kind of grapes are we yielding?

This parable of the vineyard meant a rather specific thing for the original audience, and it's meaning is clearly manifest in the response at the end "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit."

The Jewish people are entrusted with God's great gift, the Torah, the Law, ratified by a covenant.  His own great teaching should have been a vineyard providing them with life and happiness, a wall protecting them from the banality of the world around them, a tower offering them insight into the deepest mysteries of life and of the universe.  They fail to make good production: as Isaiah says, they yield wild grapes.  The Lord sends servants, the prophets, who are often ignored, scoffed at, abused, killed.  Finally God sends His Son, Jesus, who is totally rejected and usurped, yet establishes a new people who will receive the vineyard as their own and govern it rightly.  This is what the parable meant for the audience of the day.

However, that meaning is not the only one for the parable: it works on another level because the Scriptures are the living Word of God which speak directly to us even as it is speaking through history.  In addressing this parable Pope Benedict reminds us of the bleak results we see when we use our freedom poorly.  In Jesus of Nazareth he asks, "if we open our eyes, isn't what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world?  Isn't this precisely the logic of the modern age, of our age? Let us declare that God is dead, then we ourselves will be God.  At last we no longer belong to anyone else; rather we are simply the owners of ourselves and of the world.  At last we can do what we please.  We get rid of God; there is no measuring rod above us; we ourselves are the only measure.  The 'vineyard' belongs to us.  What happens to man and the world next?  We are already beginning to see it..."

The Holy Father is reminding us of the importance of not allowing God's gift of freedom to bring us imprisonment in our own selfishness, making ourselves to be God.  Did we build the vineyard?  Do we own the world?  No, we are all tenants, we are all stewards of God's gifts - that is why we focus on stewardship in our parish.

This parable can also be understood in a spiritual sense: God gives you, in your Baptism, this magnificent gift.  Your body, your life, becomes this wonderful vineyard-garden that houses the Spirit, then He departs to allow you to freely care for it.  Will you work hard, half-heartedly, lazily, or not at all?  Will you work for bits of time but take "vacations" from this work of the Spirit?  What kind of grapes will you yield?  Will it be, as St. Paul calls us to, "all that is true...honorable...just...pure...lovely...gracious...excellent and praiseworthy?"

But not primarily individually, we should remember that as Christians, we are called to be members of the one body of Christ: we are in it together, particularly as a parish community and as a diocese.  We are primarily stewards together, not only individually.  CCC 781 "At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him. He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness. He therefore chose the Israelite race to be his own people and established a covenant with it. He gradually instructed this people. . . . All these things, however, happened as a preparation for and figure of that new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in Christ . . . the New Covenant in his blood; he called together a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit."

God wishes us to be saved together.  Are we working together for this common goal?  Are we bearing the fruits of the Spirit like St. Paul mentions?  Are we people of community, where the "peace of God that surpasses all understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus"?  If not, we are not being good stewards of God's gifts to us.  Let us renew in our hearts our commitment to do God's work in our lives.