27th Sunday of OT Year A 2011
Jesus again speaks to us today with a parable. But, this parable is quite complicated. We notice at first that Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and the elders. In other words, he is speaking to the religious leadership of Israel. Therefore, the parable seems directed to them, they are the ones who have not accepted the prophets, nor accepted the person of Jesus. While it is certainly true that we can learn from this parable, the Christian disciple is not the focus of the parable until the very end. Jesus says that the kingdom of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit.
We can say, then, that the kingdom of God has been given to us. But, it has not simply been handed to us so that we can enjoy it for our own sake. Rather, Christ expects us, the new tenants, to produce fruit. Do we produce fruit? It is a simple question, but certainly an important one. Do we see the production of fruit as our vocation in life?
Very often I see the faith as something that feeds me, something that fills me with joy and hope. I often see that faith as something I receive. But, this is an interesting passage, the Kingdom will be given, not to another people so that they may enjoy it. But, it is given to another people so that they will produce fruit. In fact, the wicked people in the parable are criticized precisely because they kept the rich harvest of the vineyard to themselves. They didn't allow the fruit of the vineyard beyond the walls of the vineyard.
This leads me to another point. What is the fruit of which we speak in the gospel? Vineyards, of course, produce grapes. But, in the ancient world grapes were used to make wine. Wine is a biblical image for joy: psalm 4 says you have filled my heart with a greater joy than when grain and new wine abound, or Ecclesiastes 9 says says: drink you wine with a joyful heart. So I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that the vineyard is a sign or our relationship with God. It is a place of safety and security: God has built a wall, a tower, etc. It is a place where good fruit grows, where the choicest wine is produced. The vineyard of the Lord is a place of Joy. Here we find security and joy. But, the point of this vineyard is to produce fruit that spreads. The joy of Christianity is not simply for our enjoyment, it is meant to be spread. Joy is certainly a gift that we receive from God, but it is meant to flow beyond ourselves.
Joy is often misunderstood. Often when we hear the word we envision some kind of bubbly, ephemeral kind of joy. This is more like enthusiasm, which has its place but is not the same as joy. Rather, joy is the solid internal disposition of the believer that allows him/her to live in the world.
Look at St. Paul. Today in the second reading we hear some encouraging words: have no anxiety, the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds, think about what is pure, honorable, lovely, just, the God of peace will be with you. These are wonderful words that might easily bring us some hope. But, we must remember that Paul wrote these words while in prison. He was awaiting trial where he would be put to death, and yet he writes have no anxiety!!! I think it is precisely joy that allows Paul to remain steady and calm while in prison. Paul's heart was so set on Christ that no matter what his external situation, his heart was still focused on Christ. This is the definition of joy in my book, not bubbly enthusiasm, but solid faith in the power and love of Christ. And, Paul did not simply keep this joy to himself, he is writing to the Philippians so that joy might continue to spread.
Today we have a wonderful opportunity to receive our Lord in Word and in Sacrament. We have a chance to deepen our faith, to grow in our relationship with Christ. This relationship brings us the joy that allows us to deal with whatever life might throw at us. But, this joy will not be complete unless we share it with others. No wonder then that at the end of every Mass we are sent to Love and to serve the Lord. We might as well say: the Mass is ended, go in peace to spread the joy of God's kingdom in the world.