Fruit of the Vine by Michael Pirri

In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard the parable of the man with two sons, both of whom get sent out to work in the vineyard. Again, in the first reading and psalm today, we hear about the vineyard. This marks the third week in a row where we speak about the vineyard, though surely not the same vineyard. It’s important to note the use of real world imagery in these parables. Under the rule of the Roman Empire, it was not uncommon for wealthy landowners to mismanage their property. Christ’s use of the vineyard shows a profound understanding and disapproval of the socioeconomic conditions of His time.

The first reading paints a pretty grim view of humanity: The Lord of hosts tended his field and “planted it with choice vines […] he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. […] he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”

I particularly enjoy the duality in the parable which we can draw: on one hand we are the farmer, angry that our good deeds do not yield their just reward; and yet we are also the vineyard, never living up to the potential God gives us. How can we reconcile not living up to our potential? What good deeds have we done that we feel we ought to be thanked for? Psalm 80 acknowledges our shortcomings and gives us a way of recognizing this struggle “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80.19).

In the Gospel, we could once again take the role of the landowner with high expectations for the harvest in the vineyard and the willingness to do what it takes to bring that harvest to fruition. And yet we are greeted with lack of respect and abuse rather than gratitude.

Upon greater reflection, you may see that we’re not the landowner at all — we’re the unruly tenants! We tend to the land and vineyard, and when others come to claim what they believe to be theirs, we feel the need to defend the fruits of our labour. If we are the unruly tenants then, as in the first reading, the Lord is the landowner. So we denied prophet after prophet, until finally His son was sent to us, and we acted no better.

I think the best understanding of the readings today falls somewhere between the two interpretations. The focus, I believe, is to recognize that we are to give thanks for that which is given to us, and to claim each day as an opportunity to do better, realizing all of the things God gives to us.

Sundays Readings:

Isaiah 5.1-7

Psalm 80

Philippians 4.6-9

Matthew 21.33-43