Comfort, warning

By: By Father Dominic Garramone, OSB

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 5

Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9,12,13-14,15-16,19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

The image of a vineyard appears frequently in the Bible, for a variety of reasons. Local water was not always safe to drink, so wine was the preferred beverage. Grapes could be dried and stored as raisins, a popular food of the day. “Every man under his vine and under his fig tree” was a common proverb denoting times of national prosperity and security.

In Jesus’ day, however, there were many men without property who hired themselves out as tenants on the estates of the wealthy landowners. Many of these owners lived in the city some distance from their vineyards and fields, so they would send slaves or servants to collect their share of the harvest. Jesus uses this common practice as the basis of the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel.

We have become so familiar with the parables that we can often miss their shock value. Jesus’ hearers certainly would have asked themselves: “Why is this rich landowner such an idiot? Why does he keep sending servants and messengers when they get beaten and killed? Who in his right mind would send his son into such a blatantly dangerous situation?”

When Jesus asks these chief priests and Pharisees (men of the “law and order” party) what the owner might do, they immediately reply, “He will put those men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Only later do they realize that by their answer they have condemned themselves.

Jesus’ parable is an example of the forbearance of God, an illustration of how God does not immediately condemn us when we fail to heed his commands and respond to the many messengers he sends us to call us to fidelity. “You have mercy on all, O Lord,” wrote the author of the Book of Wisdom, “for you can do all things, and you overlook the sins of all that they may repent” (Wisdom 11:23).

But the parable is also a warning, at least to those of us who have received the revelation of the fullness of God’s plan of salvation. God is patient, yes, and sent his only Son to die for our sakes. But his Son will come again, not in weakness and poverty, but as the Lord and Judge of all.

As autumn leaves fall and winter approaches, we come closer to the last Sundays of Ordinary Time, when the liturgy turns its gaze inexorably toward the end times. In the weeks until then, let us strive to be among the good and faithful servants for whom the kingdom has been prepared.

Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy in Peru. He is also subprior at St. Bede Abbey.

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