27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached October 8, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

In case you hadn’t notice the image of the vineyard is an important one in Scripture. This is the third Sunday in a row in which Jesus gives us a parable involving a vineyard. We also heard about a vineyard in today’s 1st reading from the prophet Isaiah. We can also think of Jesus words, I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower … I am the vine you are the branches. (Jn 15:1,5) Then since vines produce grapes and grapes are used to make wine, we should also recall the wedding at Cana when Jesus made water into wine, an abundance of fine wine, and the Last Supper, when Jesus changed the wine into his life-giving blood. He tells us, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (Jn 6:54)

It is good for us to have all these references in mind when we turn our attention to today’s readings.

The last two Sundays we heard parables in which Jesus talked about sending ‘workers’ into his ‘vineyard’, in one case the workers were hired, in the other they were sons. The two parables revealed different aspects of our relation to the Lord and the work he assigns us to do in his ‘vineyard’.

Today, God, the Lord, appears in the parable as a landowner who plants the vineyard, and Jesus speaks of the relation between the landowner and the ‘tenants’ who are to take care of the vineyard and give the fruits to the landowner. In the parable the tenants refuse to give the fruits of the vineyard to the landowner, to the point even of killing the landowners son. The tenants want to take control of the vineyard for themselves.

The parable is very pointed, to say the least, because the tenants refer to the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Jesus is confronting those chief priests and elders, indeed he is given them warning, he is telling them that they are about to kill him, whom they implicitly recognize as the Son of God and the ‘heir’ of the vineyard of the Lord, the people of God. He is warning them also that they will suffer a wretched death on that account, which will eventually take place when the Romans come, lay siege to Jerusalem, storm the city, and destroy the city and the temple. He is also warning them that God will take his kingdom away from the chief priests and elders of the Jews and give his kingdom to a people that will produce fruit.

So who is it that receives the kingdom of God in place of the chief priests and the elders?

The answer is simple, the Twelve Apostles and then their successors, the bishops, are the new chief priests of the people of God. The ‘elders of the people’ are the priests of the Church. Indeed the word ‘priest’ derives from the Greek word ‘presbyteros’ which means ‘elder’. The Gospels, written in Greek, speak of the elders or ‘presbyters’ of the Jewish people, the Acts of the Apostles and the letters speak of the ‘presbyters’ or elders of the Christian people.

The covenant has been taken away from the Jewish people, ruled by chief priests and elders, who no longer have a temple and sacrifice – the Jewish people themselves have continued under the leadership of the Rabbis, not the priests – and has been transferred to the Church, in which the bishops and priests offer the sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and heir of the vineyard.

And what is the fruit of the vineyard? The first reading, that gives an insight with its concluding words, The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry! The vineyard is the people themselves and the fruit, their works, either of justice given to God, or of violence, fruits that are denied to God. Hark, the outcry! That outcry was heard on Good Friday, when the crowds, led by the chief priests and elders, cried out, Crucify him! Crucify him!

And yet, that outcry, in the end, led to the shedding of Christ’s Precious Blood, that redeems and saves us. Jesus Christ is the true vine that yields the fruit of his Blood poured out for salvation, for the forgiveness of sins and not for condemnation.

In the new vineyard of the new covenant, once again the people are the vineyard and the fruit, the good fruit are the works of justice and holiness, offered to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of the Mass; the fruit is the lives of the faithful offered to God in union with the Blood of Christ.

Now you must pray for your bishops and priests who have taken the place of the chief priests and elders of old; they are the new ‘tenants’ who must care for the Lord’s vineyard. They have the same temptation, to run the vineyard for themselves, for their own worldly profit. While the vineyard will never be taken away from Jesus Christ, the True Vine, it has in the past been ‘taken away’ from particular groups of bishops and priests, even from whole nations – as it has been taken away from the once Christian regions of Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco and as now it seems to be in the process of being taken away from once Christian Europe – this has taken place in the past and can take place again in the future. It can happen in the Church in the United States, in can happen in the Church in the Diocese of Baker, it can happen here in The Dalles.

The Christian people, the vineyard of the Lord, must pray for their bishops and priests, the ‘tenants’ who have the care of their souls and who must answer to God for them. Nevertheless, the Christian must not excuse himself by blaming the bishops and priests. On Good Friday the crowd joined in with the chief priests and elders in the great outcry, Crucify him! Crucify him!

As the whole Church is the vineyard of the Lord and the bishops and priests are the tenants, so each Christian soul is a little ‘vineyard’ of the Lord, and each person is the ‘tenant’ in his own life. When we seek to take control of our own lives, for ourselves, apart from the Lord, we act as wicked tenants; only when our life is ruled by the recognition that we do not belong to ourselves, but to the Lord, do we truly give him the fruits of our little vineyard.

Let me make a couple of practical proposals. First, spend some time this week examining your life and see if you can recognize a way you might have of speaking or acting as though you belonged to yourself and not to God; second, form a resolution to do one concrete action in recognition of the truth that you belong first to God, not to yourself.

In this matter we can turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Daughter of the Old Covenant and Mother of the New Covenant, the most pure creature of God, who through her virginal consecration belonged wholly to the Lord, who placed herself wholly and without reserve at his service when she answered the angel, saying, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.