Isaiah 5:1-7; Ps. 80; Phil.4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43
We have three sets of homily notes to choose from. Please scroll down the page.
Fr. Evaristus Okeke: The Vineyard is the Lord’s
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: Becoming Fruitful Tenants
Fr. Paul Oredipe: What more from God
Fr. Evaristus Okeke
The Vineyard is the Lord’s
One very precarious situation a person may find himself or herself is a state of identity crisis. Knowledge about oneself is the governing propensity that influences ones decisions and actions in life. So, if one does not know the self, he/she will not know how to decide and what action to take. Someone with identity crisis is clearly lost.
The liturgy of today sets to clarify our identity as Christians. We are instruments of God; He calls us friends because he wants us to relate intimately with Him. In the covenantal relationship with God and man, man is the inferior while God is the superior. In the strict sense, it is the subordinate that gives account to the superior, while it is the bounden duty of the superior to provide all that is necessary for the proper functioning and wellbeing of the subordinate.
In the gospel reading, Jesus told a parable of a landowner who planted a vineyard. He did not only plant, he also did all that was necessary for the vineyard to the productive. Thereafter, he leased it to tenants for cultivation. At the end of the farming season, there was a problem. The problem was not that the vineyard did not produce fruits as expected. If it were, then the fault would have been from the landowner. The problem was that the tenants harboured a high level of identity crisis; that is, they forgot that they were tenants and assumed the position of landowners. Therefore, they attempted to frustrate whatever will bring them to give account of their stewardship.
The whole action of killing the landowner’s servants and even maltreating and killing the heir, was an attempt to evade rendering account to the landowner. The vineyard has produced bountifully well, so much so that the tenants wanted it all for themselves and no longer wanted to share its profit with the landowner. This was a bridge of contract. By assuming the position of landowners, they came to see the landowner or his representatives as threats. Those who fail to love are threatened by the love of God. The tenants may have thought that the rich productivity of the vineyard was a result of their hardwork, forgetting that the landowner made all the provision; including that of labour.
Identity crisis sets in in our spiritual lives when we forget or neglect the fact that we shall give account to God of our stewardship. This is always the root of every sinful action. Man has always attempted to play God in the sciences, in economics, in ordinary day life and so many other ways.
Beloved, notice how the parable ended. God is never unfaithful despite the failings of men. Because he is God, only Him is indispensable. When we fail to make judicious use of all that God has given to us, He will not allow the project to die because of our negligence; He will rather put us away and employ those who will work with Him wholeheartedly.
This should send a sound lesson deep down our spine. God has not made us to displace him but to serve Him. When he puts some “lazarus” at our “gates”, he is not entirely putting their lives in our hands. He is only giving us avenue to use what he has given us so that we will be able to prepare our report on the last day. Therefore, that person who depends on you for survival, will one day no longer need you to survive; that your employee will not work for you forever; that your customer will not buy from you forever; that your househelp will not be in your house forever; that person you are blackmailing will not be afraid of you forever. There is time for everything and a time comes when life teaches us that we are merely pencils in the hands of our creator. Therefore, the good you can do today, do not postpone it or excuse yourself from doing it.
In the second reading, St. Paul exalts us to contemplate whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, gracious and so on. These are fruits of love. Invariably, we should not rely on whatever is power conscious, authoritarian, possessive, selfish, exploitative, marginalizing and so on. Whatever is not built on love fades someday.
Finally dear friends, we will leave this world one day. Our leaving will not be the end of our existence but the emergence of the time reckoning. Do not be carried away by the structures that seem to keep you safe even when you act unjustly and oppressive. Always remember that the table will turn around one day. The time of reckoning does not necessarily begin when we die but even right here in this world. That pauper you jettisoned yesterday might be the hope of your child tomorrow. That you have maliciously failed a student today does not stop him or her from becoming great in future.
See, we may know today but we certainly do not know how long this today will last. We do not know tomorrow. Love is the investment we can make today for a secured tomorrow. We pray at this Mass that we may not lose our vision of Jesus but will always put our eyes on him so that on the last day, we will joyfully not regrettably give account of our stewardship. God Bless You!
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
BECOMING FRUITFUL TENANTS
In the first reading, the Lord speaks of a vineyard which he planted and which has yielded bad fruit. No one who has planted is happy harvesting bad fruits. The vineyard represents all the good the Lord has done but instead of gratitude, holiness and worship they sinned against God. Precisely because of this, the Lord leased Israel out for destruction so that their enemies would overrun them. In the gospel, using the parable of the wicked tenants Jesus allegorically describes the failure of the Chosen people of God and their leaders, to produce fruits of righteousness, justice and mercy. Beloved, anyone who is loved by God ought to express his gratitude by bearing fruits of the kingdom. Redemption is not reduction; we have been redeemed not to reduce but to produce. We are to produce fruits of the Spirit to foster the course of the kingdom. Just as God spoke through prophet Isaiah that he shall expose Israel to destruction so the Lord also says in Matt.7:19 that “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Therefore, bear fruits.
In the second reading, St Paul urges us to bear fruits of the kingdom by acts of nobility, goodness, integrity, purity and virtuousness. These are never realized if we don’t curb greed. Greed is a bad creed; no Christian who wants to make heaven should profess it. The tenants professed greed when they said to themselves at the sight of the Landowner’s son “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.” Some people are just there looking for they will kill and possess their inheritance; many are skimming to push others out of office to take over their position. Greed is the primary cause of the problem in our community, families and Church today. Greed is the reason many Christians are not bearing fruits and this has brought lukewarmness to the Church. Related to greed is wickedness. Why would they want to kill him to possess his inheritance? Cain who killed his brother, Abel, never took his place, rather, he paid dearly for his wickedness. In 2 Sam. 12 even the man after God’s own heart, David, paid dearly for his wickedness over Uriah.
Again, we are told that the wicked tenants refused to pay their rent; rather they beat up the rent collectors. We must learn to be people of integrity who are faithful to agreement. More so, the reading reminds us that we are tenants in this world and the season will soon come when we will have to hand over our produce to God. Prophets were sent to reiterate this message, to remind us that this world is not our own. Beloved, we are tenants in this world. One day the great Landlord will give us notice that our rent has expired. Let us endeavour to be fruitful before the D-day comes.
Lastly, today’s parable also reminds us of the need to accept Christ message. The Pharisees and the Scribes rejected his message; Christ spoke to them plainly; he spoke to them in parable all to no avail. Thus, Christ quoted Psalm 118:22 saying: the stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone. When Peter preached to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:8–12, he made reference to these words to show that Jesus is the rejected stone whom God made to be the cornerstone of salvation. They (the Jewish leaders) rejected him, but God not only accepted him but put him in the position of highest honor. In that position his name now assures salvation. Beloved, do not be like the builders who rejected God’s Stone of salvation! Do not reject Jesus Christ. Don’t disobey those who bring his message to you. May God open your eyes to see Jesus as he really is—the Cornerstone of eternal salvation.
Fr. Paul Oredipe
WHAT MORE FROM GOD
This gospel parable is often taken as a story to teach a lesson. It is sometimes seen as a ‘window parable’ which gives us insight into God or His kingdom. However, it is much more than that. It is both a story and a message. It is a ‘mirror parable’ a story that acts as ‘verbal mirrors’. It gives us an insight, not into other things outside of us, but into ourselves.
Jesus constructed the parable in such a way that people in this parable represented people in his listening audience. In other words, people listening to Jesus were able to see themselves in one of the characters in the parable. The message is in the story and the story itself is the message. It simply speaks to you and me.
God is asking us today: what more was there for me to do that I did not do? What more was there for me to bless you and your land with that I did not do? What more? What more? This is a question we have to answer, even at the beginning of this session. What more was there, what more is there, and what more will be there that God did not do; that God is not doing; that God will not do?
God has left nothing unimagined and undone in creating us and showering us with gifts – gifts of life, insight and inspiration; gifts of hope and ambition; gifts of loving others and being loved; gifts of sharing life and participating in the life of others; gifts of prayer and contemplative silence; gifts of strength and conviction to preserve goodness in others.
In the ordinary life experience, we all know and have experienced how parents sacrifice a lot of time and resources for the happiness and growth of their children. They give their best. Yes, parents give a lot for their children. But are their tasks, efforts and sweat always rewarded? What do they get in return? Disappointment, failures or success and blessing. Parents are always in deep distress after being let down or rejected by their children. Often we see and hear them cry with tears: “What more could I have done for my children?” Such was the fate of the writer of our first reading today. This is Isaiah’s beautiful ‘song of the vineyard’ written in the form of a love song.
A vineyard, as we know, is a large well-kept field where vines are planted and produce the grapes from which wine is made. Palestine was a land of vineyards. At the time of Jesus, almost every family had its vineyard. The wealthier ones owned large plantation and employed labourers to look after them. The prophets of the Old Testament returned again and again to this popular image of the chosen people.
God has done whatever He could do. He cleared the vineyard of stones, made a wall around it (to keep the animals out), built a watchtower, and hewed out a winepress – and see what happened. Disappointment. There is no pain more intense or distressing that that of being rejected or disappointed.
The Responsorial Psalm gives a further interpretation and direct application of this ‘love song’ in the first reading. Our response: “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” says it all. Israel is the vineyard of God, the work of the Lord, the joy of his heart (cf. Jer. 2:21).
The owner is God. The valuable vines are the Israelites whom God rescued from abroad, from Egypt. The good land where his people were transplanted is Palestine. The stones that were in the field and were removed are the people that inhabited the place before the arrival of the people of Israel. The tenant farmers are the Jewish religious and political leaders who were in charge of making the people produce fruits. The fruits that the owner was expecting are the good works that God demands from his people. Faithfulness to the covenant, social justice, love for the poor, the orphan, the widow.
The vineyard is also a symbol of the Church and therefore of each one of us. We are the new Israel. We all are the vineyard of the Lord. The Son is Jesus Christ, sent by the property owner (God) to get his share of the grapes. The true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ without whom we can do nothing (John 15:1-5; L.G. n. 6). The harvest time is the moment of God’s judgement.
The truth is that the Son of God came to earth, showed His love in every possible way and was rejected. In this very hard hitting gospel, we are exposed to the blunt truth that God has done everything possible for us as a people by sending His Son to live among us. In return, we have turned our back and offered Him nothing but black ingratitude and cold indifference. We are all responsible for this failure to appreciate and reciprocate the love of God, not just the Jews.
In the gospel text, the vineyard was leased out. This reminds us that the work of evangelization is not ours. It is God’s work. We are servants and stewards entrusted with a great treasure. As the gospel acclamation reminds us: “I have chosen you from the world, says the Lord, to go and bear fruit that will last (John 15:16). We did not choose ourselves. It is a gift of God.
Although we find the same image of the vineyard in both the first reading and the gospel, there is a difference. While Isaiah says that the vineyard will be destroyed, Jesus states that only the tenants will be replaced and the vineyard will be kept. The work of God, the Church will continue in spite of our lukewarmness, laziness and indifference. This parable challenges us to keep working in God’s service and not to become complacent. There will be a day of reckoning for all of us.
God is equally repulsed by our inactivity as with our iniquity. “Because you are neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15). The graver sin for the Pharisees was not what they decided, but rather their selfish and blind sterility in choosing not to decide. When Christ levies the sentence against the Pharisees, He does not say, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that respects life” (as serious as this is). Rather, He chides them for not producing fruit. Note that the sentence is essentially equally severe. The one offense takes life, the other refuses to give it.
Let us pay attention to this fact. The sin of the tenants is not necessarily that they do not make the vineyard yield fruits, but that they want for themselves these fruits which do not belong to them. This is the sin of atheism. To manage the universe for the exclusive profit of man, without taking into account that it is the possession and gift of God. Without taking into account the plan and purpose of God for mankind.
We must be careful to administer God’s vineyard and be accountable to Him. It is foolishness to arrogate the glory to ourselves. “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples” (John 15:8). For when man no longer accepts God as his ultimate Happiness, his absolute Good, his Direction in life … he searches in himself for this happiness, this good, this direction. But this is an illusion. And modern philosophy shows abundantly how ‘the ritual murder’ of God is the death of man too. It is clear and evident that, without God, death always conquers, evil is always the victor, and non-sense always has the last word.
We must not see this parable merely on an individual level. It takes many vines and many branches to make a vineyard. God’s vineyard is the Christian community. What sort of fruits is God expecting from his people, from us, today. We are certainly not talking about grapes. We are talking about right living.
The fruits that God expects of us are clearly listed in the second reading:
“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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4: 8 & 9) See also Galatians 5:17 – 26 (Fruits of the Spirit).
The parable teaches us about God’s patience and mercy with us and our accountability to God. When His servants are killed, He sends more and more in the hope that people will turn from their evil ways. Even when these are killed, He still hopes that His beloved Son will make His people change their ways.
Jesus is God’s last appeal, His final challenge. Depending on our response to Him judgement is then made. If we are now tenants, then we are subject to God’s expectation of us and subject to His judgement of us. God looks to us for fruits of faith and love and obedience. He expects that we will deliver forgiveness and mercy and justice.
God’s Desire for our Fruitfulness. Our spiritual lives need to be fruitful. We need to cultivate our spiritual lives and work hard to produce the fruit that will lead us closer to God. Our Lord desires that we be fruitful as He states, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:8), and also, “I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
This is our entire story. It is almost incredible that the owner of the vineyard sent his ‘beloved’ son to people who have already beaten and killed many servants. That is just the point of the story. No human father on our planet would behave like this. This is the story, not a human story but divine display of love.
In the words of St. Paul “when we were sinners Christ died for us”. He demands the same love from us. He loved us enough to die for us. Let us love Him enough to live for Him.
May the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the everlasting love of God the Father and the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.