In this Sunday’s Gospel, the parable of the vineyard, we see Jesus addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people. The owner sends his servants to collect the produce. His tenants attack them, mistreat them and kill them. The owner tries twice more with larger groups but with the same result. Finally he sends his son, believing that they will respect him. But they drive him out and kill him too.
At one level this is a direct criticism of the chief priests and elders to whom Jesus is speaking. “I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit”. In the history of Israel we see the prophets persecuted. Jesus Himself, God’s Son, will be led out of Jerusalem to be crucified.
The Gospel, however, is always addressed to us, collectively and individually, now. This parable is not only about the way the prophets were treated in the centuries before Christ. We, members of the body of Christ, the Church, must produce fruit too. The word “tenant” in this Gospel is very important. No-one in Israel owned the land of Israel. We, members of the New Covenant, do not own the Church. Our life in the Church is given to us by God, on trust so that we might bear fruit.
To bear fruit we must come to Mass every Sunday. Sunday Mass is at the core of the Church’s life. We bear fruit when we listen to the Word of the Lord to hear what he is saying to us – when we hear the Word and keep it.
It is important to consider this parable’s central metaphor – the vineyard. This is the site of our life in the Church. Vineyards are places where hard and careful work is coupled with respect for nature – God’s creation – in order to produce wine, the symbol of joy in Jewish thinking. Working willingly in the Lord’s vineyard is life-giving for us and we have the satisfaction of producing an excellent wine! This should encourage us to live and work in hope and joy.
On Saturday and Sunday this weekend some sixty young people are being Confirmed here at the abbey. I hope that we will all keep them in our prayers. I hope also that we will recognize our duty to encourage young people, in whatever way is given to us, to persevere in their faith.