27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
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.”
I wonder when we read this parable of Jesus if we truly understand its full implications. It’s very easy for us to apply all this to the people of the Old Testament. God’s vineyard was indeed taken away from them because they rejected the cornerstone when he came to deliver them from their sins. After all, the prophet Isaiah tells us quite clearly that, “The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant.” And Jesus makes the same point in the Gospel today. The tenants overseeing God’s vineyard in the parable are clearly the religious leaders of Israel, and they fail absolutely to render the owner his due, even to the point of violently rejecting his own Son who was sent by the owner, the Father, to redeem the whole situation, to redeem his people, his tenants, and restore their proper relationship with Himself. But they would not respond and they ended up killing the Son sent to redeem them and all mankind.
Isaiah asked the obvious questions: “What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?” And the answers to these questions seem impenetrable, a part of the mystery of iniquity. In the end, the leaders of Israel decided to reject the owner of the vineyard and his son. And we cannot answer why this took place, except that it was a combination of a long history of betrayals and rejection of the covenant.
And so it is tempting for us to say that it happened because this people was simply evil, and the further temptation is to suggest that we wouldn’t have done any such thing had we been in their places. But that really ignores the fuller meaning of the parable of Jesus. He was not simply explaining why the kingdom of God was taken away from the Jews and given to a foreign people, the Gentiles. He was also warning those who took their places in the kingdom, that is, in God’s vineyard, that they were also capable of just such a rejection if they did not guard their hearts and their faith.
The fact is that something quite like what happened in the parable is happening today in Christianity. The peoples of Europe who were the first to be catechized in the true faith have by and large rejected God’s dominion over the vineyard, which includes both the church and the rest of the world. It all belongs to God, but for centuries now droves of Christians have denied that truth and have chosen to go their own way. So the peoples of Europe were the first chosen, like the Jews, and they have decided today that they will no longer serve the King of Kings, the Lord of the vineyard.
Meanwhile, the kingdom of God is indeed being taken away from them and given to another people who will produce much fruit, the peoples of Africa and the peoples of some places in Asia. It’s marvelous to behold as Jesus says in the parable, “by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” At the beginning of the 20th century, there were perhaps a few million Christians in all of Africa, and today they number in the hundreds of millions.
This phenomenal growth is due not only to missionary work. First and foremost, it is a work of the Holy Spirit. The West abandons the faith, and the Spirit makes it spring up and more fertile ground. God will not allow his vineyard to be undone by the infidelity of any people, including the peoples of Western cultures. They are on doing their own civilization by their infidelity to Christ and his Church but they will not be allowed to take the Church down with them. God despoiled his own vineyard as punishment intended to bring his chosen people to their senses, but it did not work. He will not allow the enemies of the Church to despoil her the way they despoiled Jerusalem.
Certainly, each of us has to be on guard lest we be drawn into this catastrophe brought on by the infidelity of Western Christians. We are not immune to the temptation, and we must stand fast in our faith or risk losing everything. In that second reading, Paul gives us sound advice as to how to protect our faith and our hope.
First he mentions prayer and petition and thanksgiving which are the first needs of a sound Christian life. If we pray frequently and fervently, then we will come to know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.” The peace which he speaks about here and in many other places is in fact the gift of the Holy Spirit, and this same Holy Spirit, Paul promises, “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” And what the Spirit guard our hearts and minds from? They will be guarded from the evil one and the lies and deceit that he spreads in our society and culture.
Then, on the positive side, Paul encourages us to focus our minds on what will really help us in this battle with iniquity. First,
… whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
These are the things that keep our minds attuned with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. If we focus on these things, we will not be misled by the world which rarely thinks of such things.
And finally, we also need to put these things into action in concrete ways in our lives, Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Paul represents the sacred tradition handed on by the apostles, the way of Christ, His way of thinking and acting always to please the Father. If we follow this plan of life, spelled out by St. Paul as the Christian way of life, then for sure we have nothing to be anxious about. God is with us. That’s all we need to know, and then live accordingly.