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We are the vineyard of the Lord

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 08 October 2023
Isaiah 5:1-7 ><}}}}*> Philippians 4:6-9 ><}}}}*> Matthew 21:33-43
Photo by author, San Juan, La Union, 25 July 2023.

Agood friend recently came home from a 20-day Marian pilgrimage in Europe. I told him to get some rest and avoid reading the news, “Huwag ka munang magbasa ng balita baka masayang nalanghap mong hangin sa Europe.” He replied that with the very reliable internet service in Europe, they were all updated with the things happening in our country. He added, “parang ayaw ko nang magpunta sa Europe, lalo lang ako naaawa at nahihiya sa Pilipinas.”

Very true.

I rarely travel abroad but with what I have been reading and hearing especially from those visiting Japan and Singapore, the more I feel sad and hopeless for our country the Philippines. At least, God comforts us once in a while in sports like the recent golds in the Asian Games courtesy of EJ Obienna in pole vault, Annie Ramirez in jiu-jitsu, and Gilas Pilipinas in basketball. Aside from sports, nothing good seems to come from the news. Even the newscasts these days are depressing with robots “complementing” sportscasters.

Photo of a vineyard in Southern California by Dra. Carol Reyes-Santos, MD, 01 October 2023.

Our readings this Sunday seem to speak of us Filipinos and the Philippines which is like a wonderful vineyard planted by the Lord, especially when we think of our vast, fertile lands and long coastlines with rich bodies of water but we have to import our food, from rice to galunggong. What a shame that our chicharon producers import pig backfat from the tiny island of Taiwan?! Like Isaiah, we find ourselves asking what happened to our country?

Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard 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. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.

Isaiah 5:1-2

The vine and wine are important signs widely used in the Old Testament and in the gospel accounts by Jesus. In Isaiah’s writings, the vineyard represented Israel as the chosen people of God, so loved and cared for, saved from Egypt and gifted with a land flowing with milk and honey. Despite these blessings, Israel repeatedly turned away from God with their many sins of infidelity that continued in the time of Jesus Christ who borrowed and perfected this parable of the vineyard of the Lord to make it timely in every generation.

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Matthew 21:33-39

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 20 March 2023.

For the second straight Sunday, Jesus preached again at the temple area of Jerusalem and addressed this lesson to his enemies, the chief priests and elders of the people trying to find a probable cause to have him arrested.

See how this parable of the wicked tenants very similar with Isaiah’s but at the same time speaking a lot of ourselves and of our time, of how we have become like those wicked tenants taking the “vineyard” as totally ours like our body and country, arguing it is mine or ours that we can do whatever pleases us. Like those tenants, we have claimed of not belonging to God nor anyone at all, that we can do whatever we want because we are the owners of ourselves and the world. “It is my body, it is mine” and none of your business kind of thing.

How often we hear others claiming “this is my body, this is mine; therefore, I can do whatever I want with my body” like abort a baby, take contraceptives, or have a sex change, have those tattoos and body piercings? And we have spread this line of thinking to our environment with road rage spreading like a pandemic while bigger countries are grabbing territories ironically from their smaller neighbors.

The most tragic way of thinking that underlies this “mine mentality” is how so many of us have accepted – consciously and unconsciously – that most untrue statement of all that God is dead. Many would say they believe in God when actually what they mean is they know there is God and so often, they play that God, too. Pope Benedict XVI described it as “totalitarianism of relativism” when we see everything relative, no more morals and morality because we have made ourselves the measure and standards of everyone and everything – because, the “vineyard” belongs to us.

Photo of a vineyard in Southern California by Dra. Carol Reyes-Santos, MD, 01 October 2023.

More sad is the fact that we are beginning to see what happens next to us and the world with these things happening like families and relationships disintegrating, climate change and threats of wars, and more emptiness among us.

But, it is not that bad after all. Jesus not only updated Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard to speak to us in the present but also to promise us of a greater future. Notice the blessing and threat he used.

“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He 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.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? 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.”

Matthew 21:40-43

Once again, Jesus Christ’s parable asked a question to involve his hearers, including us today, in the story because the truth is, he had involved himself with us in his coming and eventually in his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Unlike in Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard, God is distinct from the vineyard; but in Christ’s parable, we are in fact the vineyard of the Lord because Jesus is one with us being the son of the owner sent to gather his share of produce.

That is the good news, the blessing this Sunday and while there is also the threat of the vineyard being handed over to better tenants, there is the promise of better produce to be shared and enjoyed in all eternity, in heaven. There will always be darkness and difficulties in this life caused by selfish, arrogant, and self-righteous people who feel they own everything in this world. Many times, we too have wasted God’s bountiful blessings to us like our talents and abilities not put into use or never harnessed; health taken for granted and separation from our loved ones. Jesus Christ had died for us to repair ourselves and our relationships. Let us grab this opportunity today of taking care of the Lord’s vineyard, of sharing his blessings.

Most of all, like what St. Paul asked us in the second reading, let us be witnesses to others by remaining faithful to God, striving for “whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious” (Phil. 4:8).

Last Thursday was World Teachers Day. I told our teachers during Masses in our university this week to remember St. Augustine’s final lesson to Deogratias his deacon preparing candidates for baptism: “The teacher is the lesson himself/herself.”

Beautiful. If we are the Lord’s vineyard, every time we produce good fruits, every time we share these fruits with others, then we become signs of hope of Christ’s presence among us. That is the most important lesson we can share with others especially in these times of darkness. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by author, Baguio City, 11 July 2023.
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