The vineyard of today’s Gospel is the world we have been entrusted to live in. It is also now, the present moment. For us, the fence that the vineyard owner erects is essentially our lives as we know them right now. The present moment is the only one in which we act, react, make decisions and do what we do.
So, we are inside the vineyard. And, within the boundary wall, life is a messy thing. Above and beyond all our worries and tribulations and joys and successes, the vineyard owner has built this world and then gone away. To many of us, this is how we can sometimes feel about God. We want him here to sort out our problems, to pave the way, to keep us on track. Many of us, too – although it is not always a worthy thought – want him to take retribution upon those who offend and hurt us.
He is, of course, with us. We might remember the touching prayer ‘footprints’ in which the single set of footprints in the sand are those of Jesus carrying us, though we did not know at the time.
Jesus’s friends are those who listen to his voice. In other words, those who act on the Gospel message. We only need to look at the vast number of saints who felt abandoned in their earthly life yet pushed on in trust, knowing that their fidelity to their Saviour would be the light at the end of the tunnel.
And so, we push on, too. We hear the Gospel message and we apply it to the vineyard in which we live. We don’t kill those who stand in our way, or hurt anyone who offends, or ransack the community. Instead, we work hard to live in harmony.
And it goes beyond not killing people! Pope Francis talks much of the environment. He has made it a fundamental aspect of caring for the vineyard. After all, the environment is all we have: it is our habitat. When we look at humanity’s treatment of planet earth, it demonstrates what a few powerful people will sacrifice to retain their coffers. It also shows, nowadays, how difficult it can be to see one tiny action as part of a greater world movement. It shows how we are often mistaken about our planet being one of harmony. Perhaps we aren’t as connected as we think.
The answer, of course, is to take it upon ourselves to be responsible. In no situation can someone be responsible ‘for’ us; we must do it ourselves. Throwing away our litter responsibly is part of caring for the vineyard.
And we must remember that the vinyard owner will return. If we make that owner the centre of our attention in this life, then his vinyard will always be ready for him. And it’s like the litter: whilst we can’t be responsible for others, if everyone takes responsibility themselves the place will remain in good custodianship.
Custodianship is always more than ourselves. It goes beyond the little things like our fragile ego and our propensity to be ‘offended’, whatever that means. Custodianship is about being a small part of something much bigger, something that must be nurtured and passed on. Vineyards need custodianship, just as our planet does. And the Gospel, too. We are the custodians, the ambassadors, of Christ. So let us live in the hope of being worthy of our small part in that wonderful evolving story of love.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (21:33-43)
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives’.
Jesus said to them,
‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?
I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’
The Gospel of the Lord.