4 October 202027 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
27 Ordinary Time

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 21:33-43

Aesop tells of a dog with a bone. He crosses a bridge over a stream. He looks at his reflection. He decides it is a second dog with a bigger bone. He goes for the bone. His own falls to the stream's bottom. Now he has no bone. The tenants of today's parable are similar. Because of greed, they lost their jobs.

Some concede Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived. Beyond that they cannot go. However, we must make our choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. (CS Lewis)

The proof of a superior story does not consist in its original telling but rather in how often it's retold. On this count, today's Parable of the Tenants qualifies as world-class. It has been retold countless times for 2,000 years.

The parable was spoken on Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week. It is a parable of defiance. (Wiliiam Barclay) Christ knows He is about to be assassinated. But He calls the bluff of His murderers. He has no intention of running scared. He is ready for His gunfight at the OK Corral.

In dissecting a parable, it is usually a given that it has only one meaning and that modifying clauses are not to be emphasized. But this parable is not in that class. Here each item has a point. Furthermore, no point went over the heads of His audience that day. Nor were the hearers amused. Neither should we be.

Jesus describes a situation not rare in Israel. The nation was as politically and economically troubled as it is today. Wealthy absentee landlords were common. Labor problems abounded. Some tenant-farmers working for low wages declined to pay rents. Rent strikes are not a 21st century invention.

Thus, when the landlord sent his agents and even his son to pick up his rents, the hapless fellows were often abused and even murdered. Christ's audience had read of such incidents in the Jerusalem Times over coffee and bagels. They nodded their heads in understanding.

The vineyard was a stand-in for Israel's people. The owner is God. The farmers are the rulers and priests who run the country. The servants are the prophets down through the centuries. Their murders make up an unbroken obituary column throughout the Scriptures. The son is Jesus the Christ.

The tale tells of God's confidence in people. He loans His land to us. He does not stand over us like a bullying cop nor even a watchful one. He is patient with us too. He sends us not one messenger but many. Even, when we ignore them, He, unlike ourselves, will suffer insults for a long time. A novel's hero says it is not the peace of God that surpasses understanding but rather the pain He is willing to endure from our sins.

But God is not to be trifled with. He is equal parts tremendous lover and exacting judge. The story does warn of a time when God will call in all the chips owed to Him. If we don't make up, the land will be given to others. We will be losers with our noses pressed on the glass looking in at the party.

The Parable of the Tenants tells us what Jesus thought about Himself. The agents who preceded Him were the prophets. Yet, exalted as they were, they were but errand boys. For there is only one Son. He is the Christ. Do you see now it is not enough to say the Nazarene was a great man? One must choose whether He is divine or a madman or something worse.

This parable contains one of the clearest claims Jesus ever made to being an original. He considers Himself miles above the greatest prophet. He is without peer. Language betrays us when we try to speak correctly of Him.

Matthew's Gospel tells us of the sacrifice of Jesus. Even though He knew the outcome, He went to His rendezvous with death with both eyes at full attention. He was not a passive participant in His own destruction. He was not a Billy Budd. Herman Melville, Budd's creator, would laugh at such a comparison. Gary Cooper's role in High Noon fits Him better. 

Jesus the Christ is what He was yesterday and will be tomorrow: none other than the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The world says to us, "Follow me and fit in." Jesus says, "Follow me and stand out." (Max Lucado) Make your choice.

Jesus does not want us to go where the path may lead. He wants us to go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
27 Ordinary Time

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Tenant Farmers All!

The last three weeks our gospels have been about vineyards. Two weeks ago we had the Parable of the Laborers in the Marketplace. The Good Employer called people to work in his vineyard throughout the day. Last week we had the parable of the two sons who were called to work in their father’s vineyard, one said, “No,” but went. The other said, “Sure,” but did not go. This week we have another vineyard story, the story of the evil tenant farmers who tried to steal the vineyard from their Master, even putting his messengers to death and finally putting his son to death.

So why all these vineyards? The vineyard was a fixture in Jesus’ time. Everybody drank wine. Wine cannot be produced unless there are grapes. Therefore, there were many vineyards in the ancient world that had to be worked. Actually, there are many wine producing areas of the modern world and therefore many vineyards throughout the world. You might be most familiar with the vineyards of California, the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, or maybe you are aware of the wonderful vineyards of Italy in Tuscany, Umbria and throughout Italy, or the vineyards of France in Bordeaux and Burgundy and all over France, or those throughout Spain and Germany and Greece. The production of wine is still a large enterprise throughout the world.

I want to tell you about a small vineyard where I grew up. That was my Grandpa’s vineyard in Paterson, New Jersey. This was not a large grape farm like the ones I just mentioned, just a simple wood structure in his back yard. There were wooden slats along its sides and over the top. In the spring, the grape vines would wrap around the slats. By the summer clusters of grapes started appearing. The whole family, grandparents, children and grandchildren would help harvesting the grapes. I remember the smell of those grapes. They say that your memory retains smells from the past. I think that is true. I can still smell those grapes. The aroma was amazing. My lungs filled up with their sweetness. After the grapes were harvested, Grandpa would use about half of them to make his own wine, Grandma and her daughters, my Mom for sure, would take the other half of the grapes and make grape jelly. You have not tasted grape jelly unless you have tasted homemade grape jelly. As we would say in the New York area, “Forgetaboutit.” I remember coming home from school and smelling the grape juice being pressed out of the grapes, and then begging my Mom to let me have some of the jelly as soon as it was ready.

The vineyard was a treasure in my Grandpa’s back yard. It was a treasure because it produced fruit for the whole family. It was not constructed for its looks. Nor was it constructed for the shade it would produce when the leaves came out, although I do remember having picnics under its shade. However, that was not why my Grandpa constructed his vineyard. It was constructed to provide fruit for its owner.

The vineyard in today’s Gospel was much, much larger than my Grandpa’s, but its reason for existing was the same. It was constructed to produce fruit for its owner. Only, in today’s Gospel, the laborers in this vineyard decide to steal the vineyard from the Master and keep the fruit for themselves.

Who are these wicked laborers? On one level, they are the leaders of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. They were entrusted with the Vineyard of the Lord. They were called upon to provide fruit for the Lord. They were given the mission to nourish the people in the Word of God and prepare them for the Word Become Flesh. However, they used the people for their own selfish gain. They would tax the people exorbitantly for their own financial support. The people were also their means of power before the Romans. They would use the sheer number of the people as a threat to the Pax Romana. They did not prepare the people for the Messiah. In fact, they did not even want a Messiah. What if the Messiah would eliminate the need for the Temple? What would the Temple priests and Levites do? What if the Messiah were to tell the people that God was not looking for them to revolt against Rome, but was looking for them to build a spiritual kingdom? What would the Temple priests and Levites do? No, they didn’t want a Messiah. He would disrupt their system of using God’s people to enrich themselves.

“So,” the Lord says, “the vineyard will be taken from those evil farmers and given to others who would nurture it and bear the fruit of the Kingdom.” 

That is one level of truth that this parable conveys. I suppose it has its merit in understanding salvation history. But does this parable really have a message for us who live 2020 years after the birth of the Word Made Flesh?

It certainly does! We, the baptized, have been entrusted with the vineyard of the Lord. We are given the deep responsibility of providing fruit for our Master. We must produce fruit for Him, not for ourselves.

Sadly, I have seen people use the vineyard for themselves and not for God. The absolute worst example of this, the most horrific period of our modern Church’s life, was the revelation that some priests were using their position in the Church to groom and attack children and teens. Thankfully, these priests have been removed from ministry and procedures were put into place to prevent further occurrences, but the thought that clergy would use their position to take advantage of minors still sickens all of us. 

On a morally lesser scale, but still wrong, some people use their attendance in the Church for nothing other than what they can receive from the Church or from others. I have seen this. Perhaps you have too. I have seen people who come to Church to see and be seen, but who are not there to grow in their faith life or to bring their faith to others. I remember celebrating a Funeral Mass for a government worker. A man who was Catholic but never attended Church and who had a very questionable moral life, came to the Mass and marched right up to the front of the Church. He then proceeded to make a great show of his supposed religion. By the way, he just happened to be running for office that year. I have seen, and perhaps you have seen, family members who come down to Florida to visit with Grandparents or great Grandparents and who come to Mass for the singular reason of being remembered in Grandma or Grandpa’s will. Yes, there are many visitors who have been away from the faith and who come with their Grandparents to bring them to Church and to take another look at the faith themselves. But these are not the ones of whom I am speaking. I am speaking about those who use the Church for their own selfish reasons. I have seen, and perhaps you have seen, young adults and high school people who come to Church for the sole reason of getting a girl or guy to go out with them and are completely closed to anything happening at Mass. I have seen high school people and young adults use their own attendance at Church as a motivation in their perverted minds to lead the serious Catholic they want to date to repay them for their attendance.

Using the Church for one’s personal gain is not the reason why we come together to celebrate Mass. The Mass is the Sending Ceremony. The word Mass is derived from the last words of the Mass in Latin, “Ita Missa Est” “Go, you are sent.” The Mass is the liturgy, the prayer of the people and priests united to Christ our Head. At the Mass we receive God’s Grace in Word and Sacrament so we can bring the Lord’s presence to the people of the world who long for God. The Mass is about being strengthened to produce fruit for the Lord.

We come to Mass and use the grace we receive here to lead our children, your classmates, your spouses, and yes even your parents to Jesus Christ. We do this, first of all, by growing closer and closer to the Lord so that our words and actions naturally reflect His Presence. We do this by standing up for all that is right and moral. We do this by being kind to others with the kindness of the One who was the kindest man to ever live. Think about how kind Jesus was, Think about the sick he cured, the dead he raised. Think about the woman brought to him and accused of adultery and think about little Zacchaeus, the short tax collector and robber of the people, who climbed up a tree to see Jesus and heard him call him down. Think about how Jesus said to those who were sinners, and says to us, “You are better than that. Now receive God’s mercy and change your lives.”

We have been entrusted with the vineyard of the Lord to produce fruit for our God. Grapes, sweet smelling grapes, bundles of grapes, bundles of love, must be nurtured by our kindness to be transformed by the Lord not just into wine, but into the very Blood of Christ. For we, the tenant farmers, have been entrusted to do no less than to fill the world with the Presence of Christ. 

May we work hard to care for the Lord’s vineyard.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
27 Ordinary Time

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
27 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
27 Ordinary Time

We have another vineyard in our Gospel reading this week, by my count that’s three Sundays in a row! I suppose vineyards were not only more numerous in Palestine but there they were considered to be a real sign of prosperity. And it is therefore quite natural that Jesus would use them to illustrate his teaching.

Probably Matthew lumped these three parables together because they had a vineyard in common but actually their messages are quite different. The story today is about the ungrateful tenants who first chased away the landowner’s servants and then killed his son. Afterwards Jesus gives a quote from the Psalms which reinforces the obvious reference that the servants are the prophets and the son is himself—it is he who is the stone which the builders rejected.

The various servants are the prophets sent by God to the House of Israel who were systematically ignored, misunderstood and harshly treated. More and more prophets are sent by God to explain his intentions to Israel but to no avail and finally he sends his own Son who is not only beaten but also quite swiftly murdered. This parable is a harsh prophecy aimed at the Chief Priests and Elders exposing the fact that they have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus informs them that the consequence of this is that the vineyard will be given to others who will bear fruit; i.e., to the Gentiles.

The First Reading from Isaiah and the Psalm chosen for today demonstrate that the people at the time of Jesus would have been quite familiar with the comparison of Israel with a vineyard and so the message would not have been lost on them.

You will notice that the parable is not addressed to the common folk but to the leaders of the people. It is they who will be the losers and their leadership will be handed over to others. These others are surely the Apostles who were to become the leaders of the early Church.

We don’t get to see the reaction of those to whom the parable is addressed; Matthew simply moves on to the next in his great sequence of the parables and teaching of Jesus. It is almost as if the pattern that Jesus has identified is now so deeply entrenched that it must go on to its inevitable and bitter conclusion. So, we can see this parable as a prediction of the passion and all that then unfolds from it.

Any parable or teaching of Jesus is not merely meant for those to whom it was addressed. It is also aimed at us who read it today. We are the modern-day tenants of the vineyard; the Old Testament Prophets and, of course, Jesus Christ himself were also sent to us. Their message has not become diluted over time—it is just as urgent and necessary today as it ever was.

The words and deeds of the prophets and most of all Jesus Christ are God’s way of communicating with us; by becoming acquainted with their message we discover what God wants for us, we learn how he wants us to behave.

In the parable the tenants are required to deliver up to their master a share of the fruits of the vineyard. The master, after all, has in the first place done all that was proper for him to do. He had planted the vineyard, fenced it round, dug a wine press and built a tower. All was in good order for the tenants, just as all was in good order with the world when humanity first inherited it. Then the messengers are sent and they gradually reveal more and more about their master and set forth the way he wants us to conduct ourselves.

But we, the tenants, are selfish and do not want to deliver up our share of the produce. We want to keep everything for ourselves. We even go so far as to want to inherit the vineyard ourselves. This is why modern man denies the very existence of God refusing to acknowledge his presence and action in the world.

This is the road to disaster. The denial of God and his messengers is the most foolish thing that anyone could do and yet whole generations are being deliberately brought up entirely in ignorance of God. It is the leaders of our society who are largely responsible for this; those who set the tone for modern life, such as politicians, those in the media, teachers and the people who are looked up to and seen as role models.

But the individual cannot escape blame because God sends his messengers directly to each person. Even those who were not educated in the things of God are sent people who are kind and loving, people whose lives point to the things of heaven, people who can teach them about his love.

We are professed Christians; we consider ourselves to be Christ’s disciples. Ought we not also consider ourselves to be his messengers to the people around us; to those who are ignorant of the wonders and mercies of God? That doesn’t mean that we go around shoving the Gospel message down people’s throats. No, we need to be very gentle servants of the Gospel; subtle messengers who speak the same language as those around us.

But we should be well aware of our role, our responsibility and take concrete steps to discharge our duty as his messengers. Only by realising that this is our special God-given task will we be able to carry it out effectively.

Like those Old Testament Prophets, we might find ourselves marginalized and even persecuted. But this ought not to prevent us from fulfilling our prophetic mission. Indeed, it should spur us on because we then begin to realise that what happened to Christ is now happening to us and this should confirm us in our mission.

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