Today’s readings have several themes, mainly that God is merciful and patient, and that human beings are ungrateful, careless and easily forget God.
In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we read about a wine-grower who has a vineyard which he cares for. Those he leaves in charge do not care for the vineyard and leave it nearly in ruins. Instead of a crop of grapes, God finds wild grapes that are unfit to be eaten nor useful to make vine from. The reading then goes on to tell us that God will destroy the vineyard by taking away the hedge, removing the wall and not letting rain fall upon it. God is the wine maker. He is the owner of the vineyard which is His kingdom establish at first in Israel or His creation.
We can use this passage of Isaiah to remind ourselves of the important role we have as caretakers of God’s vineyard, not only in a spiritual sense, but also in regards to creation. Yesterday, we celebrated the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi who is the patron saint of animals, creation, nature and the environment. We have an obligation to care for creation. This beautiful planet God created for us is in dire need of care. The late Dr. Carl Sagan described our planet as the “Pale Blue Dot.” Despite its size in comparison to the rest of the universe, this does not take away from the significance of our world. To date, it is the only world with life. Therefore, we can hold the opinion that human life is a special creation; not excluding all other forms of life on Earth. That being said, we have a duty to keep our world clean, healthy and as beautiful as God left it for us. Moreover, the spiritual vineyard which is the kingdom of God must also be cared for. We must not become lazy and let the vineyard fall into ruin producing wild grapes that cannot be used to make wine.
The responsorial Psalm continues with the theme of the vineyard. It tells us that Israel is the vineyard of the Lord. God took this vine from Egypt and planted it. The Psalmist then cries out to God asking why did He leave the walls to fall, the fruit to fall victim to those who pass by and the rest of it to lay waste. We all should know the answer to this based on the reading from Isaiah. Our disregard for the vineyard is why God let it fall to ruin.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that we must not become anxious or worried about anything. Instead, we are to trust in God and rely on prayer and petition. St. Paul continues saying that we must do whatever is true, honorable, pure, just, loving and gracious. We must live in God’s grace, follow His commandments and live the way Christ asked us to live. Living in this way is what will keep the kingdom of God alive and well.
Finally in the Gospel, Jesus adds to the vineyard story from Isaiah by connecting it with His time. The Jewish leaders turned the faith into a political power system instead of a faith. God (owner of the vineyard) sent three servants to care for the vineyard, yet they were killed. He then sent even more, and they too were killed. Finally, He sent His own Son believing the tenants would respect Him, but He too was killed. The vineyard is Israel. God sent prophets after prophets to maintain the vineyard and the tenants of Israel, or the religious leader ignored them. Many times even killing them as in the case with John the Baptist. Finally, He sent His own Son who is Jesus Himself. What did they do? They called for His Crucifixion before Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:21-31). Jesus then asks what will happen when the owner of the vineyard returns and the tenants have to face Him. In other words, what will the religious leaders do when God returns to the vineyard He owns and sees it was left in ruins and the people He sent, including His Son was killed by the tenants? Jesus closes saying that the stone the builders rejected will become the cornerstone.
This Gospel speaks to us today as well, especially leaders in the Catholic Church. God entrusted to us His new covenant; His new vineyard which is the Church. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5). The Church is the body of Christ with each of us as the members (1 Corinthians 12:27). We have an obligation to care for the Church. This call is especially true for the clergy who are entrusted the flock to care for. Unfortunately, some clergy have fallen astray and have led many with them due to their sins. We hear of priests abusing others, stealing, betraying the teachings of Christ. We hear of bishops who did not do enough to protect the people they care for and have fallen into clericalism and careerism as if the episcopate is a promotion level on the corporate ladder. These acts hurt the vineyard. Instead of leading the the production of good grapes that bring good wine, they bring wild grapes that are deadly. This is why many atheists constantly bring up the sex abuse scandals of the Church. Instead of seeing the beautiful vineyard God left, they see this ugly thing full of hypocrisy, vice, sin and evil. This is not what the Church is supposed to be.
Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have been working to restore the vineyard. Benedict XVI took to restoring what the teachings of the Church should be and how liturgy is to be done, while Francis is taking on the duty of being pastoral and reminding Catholics that we are the people of the Resurrection and God’s mercy, not the people of the Apocalypse who preach gloom and doom while scaring people away from the Church. Each one of us must do our part to keep the vineyard looking great and operational so when the owner returns He will be pleased with the work we have done.