October 5, 2020
I had prepared a homily for this past weekend, only to be reminded that it was Respect Life Sunday. So, I wrote a new homily more fitting to that theme.
The following is the homily I had originally written. Since I may not be able to use it for another 3 years or so, I thought I would share it now.
The homily is based on the readings for the Twenty-Seven Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 5:1-7 / Philippians 4:6-9 / Matthew 21:33-43
If you are a parent, perhaps you can recall a situation similar to this: You give a special gift to your children and within a very short time – perhaps even minutes – the gift is broken and unusable. For instance, fresh out of the package, one of the wings of a remote control airplane is snapped off as Child 1 and Child 2 fight over who will go first.
You may also remember the day a toy, specifically designed for outdoor use, was used indoors, resulting in disaster. The nerf football is thrown by Child 1 over the outstretched arms of Child 2, hitting a shelf in the living room and causing a priceless antique vase to crash to the floor.
Or perhaps you used to be Child 1 or Child 2 and remember one of your parents saying to you in a loud, exasperated voice: “THIS is why we can’t have nice things!”
Parents deal with their children’s lack of care and appreciation in a variety of ways – perhaps putting the toys under lock and key until the children learn their lesson or deducting money from a child’s allowance to pay for broken toys.
I know one set of parents that was particularly frustrated. They had each of their children pick out their six favorite toys. Then, an empty box was put in the middle of the room and they were instructed to place three of those toys in the box. The box would then be taken to Goodwill. The parents told them, “If you can’t appreciate and take care of your things, we will give them to someone who can.”
The box made it as far as the car. The parents didn’t take the toys to Goodwill but instead used the experience as a teaching moment. According to the parents, the care and appreciation the children showed for their toys improved dramatically.
The first reading and gospel offer us a stern warning. We must show gratitude for the gifts we have been given – or chance losing them.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God told the Israelites a parable of sorts. He spoke of the generous gift – a beautiful vineyard – he had prepared for them. We heard: It was “on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press.”
It was the very best of vineyards. God then waited for them to show their appreciation by producing quality fruit. Instead, he said, they only produced wild grapes – not fit for wine.
Today we are offered one of the rare instances when a scripture passage explains exactly what it means.
The passage ends with: “The vineyard of the LORD is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant.”
In other words, God told the Israelites, “I have given you the best of everything and you have given me nothing in return.”
To come back to the toy analogy – the airplane is the vineyard and its broken wing is the vine of unusable grapes.
Jesus repeated this message in a very similar parable in Matthew’s gospel. He told the story of a landowner who built a beautiful vineyard on fertile ground and offered tenants a gift – the opportunity to work the land and benefit from its yield. At vintage time, the ungrateful tenants refused to give the landowner what he was due. Even worse, they abused the gift and showed their contempt by mistreating his servants.
The parable ended by saying the landowner 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.
As with the first reading, we are told exactly what this parable means. Jesus said, 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.
So – the unappreciated toys will be packed up and donated to others that will appreciate them.
God offers us two incredible gifts. First is the gift of life here on earth; it is freely given and can be opened right away. Second is the gift of eternal life; this gift is earned.
We have three options for responding to these gifts:
Option 1: We can ignore both gifts. We acknowledge the gifts but reject them. We are in control and do not need help from God or anyone else. We roll the dice and move forward on our own. Our vine may produce fruit, but it will likely be wild and unusable.
Option 2: We can misuse or abuse the gifts. We can take advantage of all the first gift has to offer, but give nothing in return – no gratitude and no thought of paying it forward. Our vine will grow but fail to produce fruit; it will be uprooted and thrown in the fire. The second gift will be taken back and given to someone else more deserving.
Option 3: We can embrace the gifts. We can be grateful and take advantage of the rich soil and careful tending by the landowner. Our vine will grow strong and produce a great yield. We can then use what we need for ourselves, give the landowner what he is due, and share our excess with others in need.
What option have we chosen? How have we responded to the gift of life – this beautiful vineyard – God has given us? Have we ignored it, misused it, or embraced it?
I could end the homily here, with a simple call to reflect on those questions; but because God is merciful, it should not end here. Reflecting on how we have responded to God’s gift is time well spent. However, the more important question is, “How will we respond moving forward?”
We can learn from our past experiences. We can recall the broken airplane; we can envision the pieces of the priceless vase scattered on the floor; we can remember what it felt like to pack up our favorite toys in the Goodwill box.
It is not too late to change the course of our response. If we have ignored God’s gift in the past, he remains with us. His offer to enter the vineyard still stands. We don’t have to go it alone.
If we have misused God’s gift, we can remedy that. Gratitude has no expiration date – it is not too late to start producing. Vines producing usable fruit will not be uprooted and thrown in the fire.
If we have indeed embraced the gift, we are blessed. However, we must stay steadfast in this effort. Complacency will move us in the opposite direction.
Remember, the invitation to the vineyard is just the first gift. Our willingness to embrace that gift will determine if we are worthy of opening the second gift – the gift of eternal life.