Homily 27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A October 8, 2017

No one likes an ingrate. And we like even less a person who steals someone else’s idea and pretends like it’s their own. And that’s the parable of the vineyard as told by our Lord. This is why we have copyright laws; so that one person doesn’t steal from another person’s brain, without giving credit to the original owner.
An individual buys a vineyard to plant and grow some good foods. Grapes to make delicious wine. Corn to feed the masses, and probably the hogs too. Blueberries for your cereal. Because of the size of the vineyard, the owner hires workers to care for his big patch of land. Groom it, cultivate it, reap and sow on it. They’re given the best of machinery to bring forth the best crop for the owner. The owner entrusts them to do so. They perform their labor, and they do it well. They love what they do. They love the results of all this tasty food going out to market to make a profit. Everything is going along just swimmingly, as the British would say. But somewhere along the way, they lost sight of the fact that they work for someone else. Someone else owns the vineyard. Someone who knew precisely when the crops would be ready for market. An owner full of wisdom regarding the collection of his investment.
The laborers hadn’t seen the owner since the time their hiring. Since the time of their birth on the job. Because of the owner’s apparent absence, they falsely come to think they were now the owners. Maybe this is why it would give many people immense joy if Jesus visibly showed himself to the entire world; just once a week would do. To remind us that we are not in charge. That we don’t own the vineyard, but rather the vineyard has been entrusted to us to produce a good crop over the short decades of our lives. And his weekly appearance would do away with the prevailing mindset today that says we own the world., instead of the One who called it into existence.
We do live in a time where this is the predominant attitude of the laborers in the vineyard. We live in a time of rejecting the Owner. When the owner sends servants of his to the vineyard of the world, there is much persecution of them. And sometimes they even get killed. If not, they’re made to feel like they are the odd ducks, and not the laborers who tried to steal something that doesn’t belong to them. Such is the danger when people with power live like God didn’t create the world. That the Big Bang just banged on its own power, that God is absent from his creation, and that what we see and produce is of our own doing, and all the credit belongs to us. This approach is rampant in our culture, and it’s a big reason – if not the biggest – for why we have the cultural mess we do. It’s our call to transform this attitude.
So, what do we do about the whole vineyard mess? What do we do about the humble, God-fearing Israelites coming out of Egypt, and growing into wild grapes over the centuries, as Isaiah says today, when they were called by God to be sweet-tasting grapes. They were called from Egypt to stand in for God, as we are today. Instead, they stole the vineyard from God, set up their own false gods of stone and plaster, so when the owner came back one more time and saw their wretchedness, he threw them out of Jerusalem and into a 70-year retreat within the walls of Babylon. As us today, they reaped what they sowed.
The first humble admission any Christian will make about our lives is that the vineyard out there is not ours. It never was; it never will be, no matter how much pretending may be going on. The truth of who the Creator is can never be changed. For those who pretend like they own the vineyard, they have a knack for making life difficult for other people. Look at the parable of Jesus; the tenants were hired laborers. They didn’t own the company. But by pretending they did, they opened the door for violence. They became wild grapes of violence.
The servants, on behalf of the owner, showed up for the crop; one got beat, another they killed, a third they stoned. The hired tenants didn’t like the message that there’s another owner. Their pride led to violence, as many times it does. The humble admission that we are in the hands of God from birth to death, that he owns the vineyard and he owns us, removes the potential of violence. Just holding fast to that one awesome truth of God as Creator sets a path of righteousness for our lives. Remove it, and we find ourselves in the mess of Babylon.
St. Paul offers some of the best machinery regarding what to do about cultivating the vineyard, and how to avoid the vineyard mess. Whatever is honorable, he writes, do it. If there’s any question as to whether something is honorable or dishonorable, check with an honest person you trust. Whatever is just, he writes. As followers of Christ, we uphold what is just, not according to the lowly standards of the world who gets it wrong at times, but according to the teachings of our faith.
Whatever is pure, says St. Paul. Seek the cleanliness of God and his Saints, and avoid the filth of the world. Whatever is lovely, the Apostle next writes. Lovely, meaning, a reflection of God, and avoid being reflections of the unloveliness of the devilish power. Whatever is gracious, writes Paul to the Philippians from prison. The Christian form of graciousness says thank you to God for the gift of our lives, and thank you for the free gift of eternal life that will be ours. The contrast is to miserable, like Red Sox fans used to be all the time, having no hope that God has something greater for us than the limitations of this world.
St. Paul offers a list of Christian virtues to live each day. A list of working machinery. A list that helps us to understand we are not the owners of the vineyard, but the hired workers in it. We work for the owner, Jesus Christ. This truth keeps our heads on straight in this world, avoiding the craziness and violence, and enjoying the fruits of our labor now and in the life to come.