We Are The Hands Of The Vineyard Owner

10.8.17  Sun. wk 27 – O.T. – A
1st Reading  Isaiah  5:  1 – 7
Philippians  4:  6 – 9
Gospel – Matt 21:  33 – 43

“Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,* put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.  When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants* to the tenants to obtain his produce.  But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.  Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.  Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.  They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.  What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?  They answered* him, “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.”  Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures:  ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’?  Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.             The Gospel of the Lord.


Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy                      We Are The Hands Of The Vineyard Owner

One of the popular rabbinic traditions, at the time of †Jesus, was storytelling.   A rabbi would gather people around him and he would tell a story.  The story would always have some kind of moral to it.  Then he would ask of those listening, if anyone knew what the moral of that story was?

In today’s Gospel †Jesus is in the Temple precincts, not too long before He suffers His passion.  And †Jesus, surrounded by the chief priests and elders of the people, is telling a story.  So, the chief priests and the elders wanted to impress everyone with their superior morality and they provided the answer to †Jesus’s question – what was the moral of the parable.  They unknowingly described their own disobedience to God’s law.  Busted!  They were busted!  It was one of those ‘gotcha’ moments.  They didn’t get what was going on; †Jesus just led them right along into that trap.

†Jesus told this story to point out the ingratitude of the religious leaders.  They witnessed a lack of faith in God, when the message of the prophets was in conflict with their own interests.  The chief priests and the elders of the people had promised to serve God; instead they pursued their own agenda. They not only failed to keep their promises, but they obstructed God’s plan by shaming the people with guilt, and by doing violence to the people who did not obey them, just as they did when they were plotting to kill †Jesus.

God has created each one of us as part of His cherished vineyard; branches connected to †Jesus who is the true vine.  The Lord has lavished upon us His infinite, generous and loving care.  I mean – look where we live!  How good God has been to us!  The last few weeks we have seen communities being devastated by natural disasters.  Thousands of people have lost their homes, and will be living in shelters for months.  Hundreds of families will be forever changed by the violence we saw in Las Vegas this past week.  I know that most of us have counted our blessings in the last few weeks.  And these days, I think parents are giving their kids an extra kiss before they go to bed.  But, when the ‘news cycle’ changes, how many of us will soon return to our old routine of ignoring the gifts God has given to us; taking those gifts for granted.  We will forget about the needs of others, we are off in our own little world.   We might find our hearts becoming empty as they fill up with what we want in our life, rather than the love, mercy and compassion that others might need from us.

In our first reading, Isaiah’s allegory of Israel as a vineyard, speaks of us at times.  God gives us His grace and His gifts to produce good grapes of justice, love and mercy.  Instead we become like “wild grapes” of the anger, criticism and discrimination against those we perceive as different.

On Saturday morning I concelebrated a mass with Bishop McElroy and Bishop Dolan at St. John the Evangelist Parish on Washington Street in San Diego.  It was a mass for the parents who have LGBT children.  It was a mass for the parents to tell them that the Church stands with them.  As I was driving up to the Church, I was shocked by the huge police presence around the Church.  There were police squad cars everywhere, even in the parking lot.   And off in the distance about a block away, on the top of the building was a command post.  Why are all these police present?  Because this week the Bishop’s have been receiving hateful e-mails and threats to their lives.  This week one of the staff persons at St. John the Evangelist Church went out to his car after work and found that hateful people had hammered nails into the four wheels of his car.  Why?  Because we were celebrating this mass on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Saturday..

If we are to be the rich, savory grapes of God’s Vineyard, we must, as St. Paul reminds us today: “(Do) whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious…Then, the peace of God will be with you.” (Phil 4:6)  Rather than condemn or gossip about other people, pray for them; because we cannot participate in the angry and hateful rhetoric we hear all around us.  That is not discipleship!  Anger often begins with just a hint of selfishness, then, just a pinch of misunderstanding, and then a bit of criticism that has no room for compassion and understanding.  If this is what nurtures our vineyard, all we will produce is “wild grapes”.

We must look upon one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Yes, maybe they have not matured in their faith or in the spiritual life.  Possibly they have no one to help tend their vine, to help nurture their faith, because everyone is too busy pushing them away; closing doors on them.  Are we too busy criticizing and condemning them?

Why doesn’t God give up on us or other branches of wild grapes?   We have all sown wild grapes in our life; there is no one in this Church who is not a sinner.  Why does God continue to love us and continue to give us His grace, mercy and compassion? Because God loves the idea – ‘of us.’  He loves the idea of us!  And He wants us to be holy, to grow in holiness; therefore the Lord is patient with us, just as we must be patient with others.  We must see others as †Jesus sees them, as heirs to the Kingdom of His Father.

In the parable, the tenants say of the landowner’s son: “This is the heir, come let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” (Matt.21:38)   Whether that person is a Democrat or Republican, regardless of race or creed, immigration status or sexual orientation, whether they are a sinner or a saint, they are all part of the vineyard the Lord has planted.  He likes the idea of them, just as He does us.  We must be the hands of the vineyard owner, helping all people to produce a rich harvest.  If we don’t, then who is going to do it?  Who will do that?  To criticize rather than to help other people, we are no different than the tenants in the parable that †Jesus told.

Look around at your life, at the many ways the Lord has blessed you.   It may not be perfect; none of our lives are perfect.  It may be lacking in some things you want, but it is far greater than what most people have.  We must show ourselves to be true servants of the Lord, faithful workers in the Lord’s vineyard.   Then, as St. Paul writes: “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ †Jesus.” (Phil; 4:7ff)

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.