27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. October 8, 2023

 

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. October 8, 2023

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Philippians 4: 6-9; Matthew 21: 33-43

Theme: God Expects Us to Bear Fruits That Will Last

Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of that of last Sunday. Through the parable of the two sons that Jesus told the Jewish leaders last Sunday, he stated clearly that they were the first to say “yes” to God’s will to work in his vineyard as they were the Chosen People of God, but they failed to do so. The vineyard that God called them to work in is the Kingdom of heaven that Jesus came to initiate, but they rejected Jesus. So, their initial “yes” became “No”. Yet, the Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, and all sinners who initially had said “no” to the will of God changed their minds later, repented, and accepted to work in God’s kingdom.  

Just after the parable of the two sons, Jesus tells them another one: the parable of the tenants. This is our Gospel passage of today. The analogy of this parable is this: the landowner is God, the vineyard is Israel, the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, the servants are the prophets, and the landowner’s son is Jesus. Through this parable, Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders that God (the landowner) planted Israel (the vineyard), surrounded it with a hedge, dug a wine press, and built a tower (v. 33). He then entrusted the care of Israel to them (the tenants). Afterward, God sent his servants (different prophets) to them to collect his share of the harvest, meaning, to evaluate how the Jewish religious leaders lead the people of Israel in the way of God. But they beat the prophets, stoned them, and killed them. Again, God sent other prophets, more numerous than the first ones, but the Jewish religious leaders treated them in the same way. Finally, God sent his son Jesus, thinking, “They will respect my son”. (v. 37) Because the intention of the Jewish religious leaders is to acquire the inheritance of the son and become like God, they throw Jesus out of Israel and kill him (v. 39). Jesus ends this parable with a question addressed to the Jewish religious leaders, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” (v. 40). Their answer is “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” (v. 41). Then in response, Jesus reminds them of Psalm 118 which he applies to himself. The stone that builders rejected is Jesus who has become the cornerstone of the Church. He is deemed “wonderful” in the eyes of those who received him and cared for the vineyard of his Father (v. 42). Matthew ends his Gospel by affirming that God’s kingdom will be taken away from the Jewish leaders who represent all those who reject Jesus; it will be given to those who accept Jesus by producing its fruits (v. 43).

By telling us this parable, the Church wants us to know that the “vineyard” or the Israel of today is our societies, neighborhoods, families, Church, and environment; and the Israelites of the New Covenant are you and me, the Christians. God has entrusted the care of our societies to the political leaders, the care of our Church to the religious leaders, the care of our families to the parents, the care of our brothers and sisters to you and me, and the care of the environment to each of us. Some questions that we should ask ourselves are the following: How each of us here is taking care of his or her “vineyard” that God has entrusted us? Are we bad tenants like those in the parable? Here our Mother Church reminds us that we are just the stewards but not the “landowners” or God. When we ignore God’s will and do whatever pleases us by destroying the environment, mistreating the people of God in our families and neighborhoods, and not serving or helping our Church, at that time, we are bad tenants like those in our parable. We are good tenants when we do, not our will, but God’s will; and God’s will is to serve and protect the people and the environment that God has entrusted to our care.

The Church also wants us to identify ourselves as the servants and the “son” of this parable whom the tenants persecuted. On one hand, until today, there are still wicked tenants who continue to persecute God’s servants. And on the other hand, God still needs the servants to work in his vineyard. So, knowing very well all the sufferings of this mission, are we still willing to accept God’s mission? To be Christian entails commitment and willingness to carry our crosses and follow our Lord. As God’s servants, people may reject us, criticize us, discourage us, and even persecute us. This is the way that the devil operates to hinder and stop the mission of God. His goal is to prevent the people from being evangelized so that they may not be saved on the last day. We are called to be courageous servants who are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the salvation of the souls of our brothers and sisters in our church community, families, and everywhere we live.

In addition to considering ourselves as “tenants” and “servants” of our Gospel’s parable, our Moder Church wants us to also consider ourselves as the “vineyard” of our first reading. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah addresses the real theme of the people of Israel’s infidelity to God in a prophecy that takes the form of a song. He states that the song is sung concerning his “friend” who has invested his energy and his livelihood into his vineyard. He planted it on a fertile hillside, spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines. He built a watchtower within it and hewed out a wine press (see vv. 1-2a). With all these tremendous works, Isaiah’s friend waited for the crop of grapes, but his vineyard yielded rotten grapes instead (v. 2b).

The analogy of this son is that the friend of Isaiah is God. The vineyard is Israel (remember Israel of the New Covenant are all Christians, meaning you and me). The fertile hillside is our society, families, church, and everywhere we live. The choicest vines represent the desire that God put in our hearts to know him, love him, and follow him. The crop of grapes represents virtues, and rotten grapes stand for wickedness, acts of violence, and all sorts of sins. So, God has given us fertile and well-arranged land, neighborhoods, families, and the Church to live in. He planted in us “the choicest vines”, meaning the desire to know him, love him, and follow him. With all that he has done for us, God expects us to yield for him the “crop of grapes” which are all the virtues such as coming to his Church (especially every Sunday) to worship him, loving, helping, and serving the people he entrusted us, and protecting the environment. However, we, his “vineyard”, yield “rotten grapes” instead of the “crop of grapes”. We do not come regularly to Church to worship him and express our gratitude for all the blessings that we receive from him. We do not love him and serve him much through our brothers and sisters. And we do not protect well enough the “fertile” environment that he has given us. 

The reading ends with Isaiah prophesying what God will do with this “wicked vineyard”, meaning with all those who do not do God’s will. He says that God will “take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to rain upon it.” (vv. 5-6, NABRE). This punishment alludes to the condemnation of the last judgment at the end of time.

By choosing these Bible readings today, our mother Church wants to remind us that being Christians is not just avoiding sins, but it is also producing good fruits. This is what Saint Paul exhorts us to do in our second reading. He calls us to have no anxiety at all but to make our requests known to God by prayer, petition, and thanksgiving (Philippians 4: 6).  Also, he urges us to think of everything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious and anything that is excellent and worthy of praise (v. 8). Finally, he encourages us to imitate his example (v. 9).

In this liturgy of the Mass, let us ask God’s grace so that we may be the “good tenants”, “obedient servants”, and the “fruitful vineyard” who always do God’s will by loving and serving his people, his Church, and his environment. As we are in October, the month dedicated to the veneration of the Virgin Mary, let us ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for us. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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